” Two police officers called at the house of this wwitness on whose fresh evidence we rely…. it appears they forced their way into the house and proceeded to warn him that if he went to court he would be discredited ” – Barry Macdonald QC.
POLICE have made an apparent attempt to sabotage appeals by two men convicted of murdering Constable Stephen Carroll, a court heard yesterday. A new witness in the case of John Paul Wotton and Brendan McConville was arrested last week and held for two days before being released without charge in a bid to pressure him into withdrawing his evidence, it was claimed.
Senior judges were told officers had forced their way into his home and warned him he would be discredited if he went to court. Yesterday the planned five-day hearing of the appeal by the pair found guilty of the killing was adjourned because of uncertainty over the potential fresh evidence. Defence lawyers said they would lodge a complaint with the police oombudsman’s office. Constable Carroll was ambushed and shot dead as he responded to an emergency call at Lismore Manor in Craigavon in March 2009. McConville (41), of Glenholme Avenue in the town, is serving at least a 25-year sentence for the murder. Wotton (22), of Collingdale, Lurgan, received a minimum 14-year term. Dressed in dark suits and wearing shirts and ties, both men were led handcuffed into a packed Court of Appeal for the planned opening of their cchallenge.
Family, friends and supporters, including Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six and Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four (pictured above), gathered in the public gallery a few feet away from the murdered officer’s wife Kate Carroll. They heard prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC seek an adjournment because of the new developments. He said an arrest had been made last week as part of a surveillance operation. “There are a number of lines of inquiry that are not yet complete,” he said. Two lever-arch files of new material have emerged and include the contents of 11 interviews. Mr Murphy indicated that ongoing police inquires could take several weeks. McConville’s barrister Barry Macdonald QC stressed that the prosecution case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence, primarily from a man identified only as witness M who claimed to have seen McConville in the area at the time of the killing. Earlier this month a relative of witness M who did not testify at the trial gave an affidavit branding him a compulsive liar, the court heard. Mr Macdonald said the affidavit stated “that he was known to the family as a Walter Mitty, that made up stories, that he had a fertile imagination and you could not believe anything he said “. According to the relative, witness M could not have taken the route he claimed on the night of the murder because his partner was not welcome in his home.
Mr Macdonald told the court : “Then last Monday two police officers called at the house of this witness on whose fresh evidence we rely. “On my instructions it appears they forced their way into the house and proceeded to warn him that if he went to court he would be discredited.” The three appeal judges, Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan and Lords Justices Higgins and Coghlin, were informed that letters of complaint were also to be sent to the Public Prosecution Service and the Law Society amid concerns that covert surveillance might have been used against the witness, his solicitor or both. Mr Macdonald described the application to adjourn the hearing as “suspicious to say the least”. Defence teams would have no faith in police carrying out an investigation into the issues raised because of the apparent conflict of interest, the barrister said. It was alleged that officers had been able to “arrest this witness and to subject him to pressure – we say improper pressure – with a view to securing the withdrawal of his evedence and therefore undermining the appeal”. Mr Macdonald called for a more independent oversight process. “I’m simply registering strong objection to the conduct that appears to have taken place here and flagging up our deep concerns at the prospect that police should be given more time to sabotage this appeal and put their case togeather,” he said. Following discussions Sir Declan confirmed that the hearing would be postponed until October.
Solicitors seek ‘independent’ investigators
SOLICITORS acting for Brendan McConville will ask a court to appoint “independent” investigators after the PSNI/RUC was accused of trying to “sabotage” his appeal. Kevin Winters last night said he would ask the Court of Appeal to allow the Criminal Cases Review Commission to oversee the PSNI/RUC investigation into a new witness in the case just days after that witness signed an affidavit for the defence team. This arrest was made after a surveillance operation that is understood to have focused on several people. It is beleived to be the first time a court in the North of Ireland will be asked to remove control of an investigation from the PSNI/RUC and hand it to the commission. Set up in 1997 the commission reviews possible miscarriages of justice.
Defence solicitors say it can oversee police investigations in certain circumstances. Mr Winters emphasised the need for an independant body to look at the matter. The police ombudsman’s office has also asked to probe the circumstances of the witness’s arrest. “We have concerns and they were highlighted in court about the manner in which the police have approached this and have written to the police ombudsman and in the strongest terms voiced our grave concerns,” Mr Winters said. The lawyer said he had also written to the Law Society and had asked the Public Prosecution Service to confirm it had offered direction or advice to the PSNI/RUC in relation to the arrest of witness M’s relative. A PSNI/RUC spokesman said : “Police inquiries into this matter are continuing and as such it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
With many thanks to : Connia Young, Irish News.
- Sabotage claim in PSNI murder appeal (bbc.co.uk)
- Psni ‘Sabotage’ Claims Made at Constable Stephen Carroll Murder Appeal (belfastdaily.co.uk)
- Paddy Hill of the ‘Birmingham Six’ says the ‘Craigavon Two’ are INNOCENT (seachranaidhe1.wordpress.com)
- Police accused of sabotage over Stephen Carroll killers’ appeal (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)