Wednesday 4 September 2013 14.11 BST
Craigavon Two suitable scapegoats in wake of killing backlash, say supporters
An appeal by two men convicted of the murder in 2009 of a police officer in Northern Ireland is scheduled for October. Supporters, including one of the Guildford Four, say the so-called Craigavon Two are victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Stephen Carroll, a constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, was shot dead in Craigavon, in County Armagh, in 2009 as he responded to a 999 call. He was the first police officer in Northern Ireland to be murdered after the Good Friday agreement. His death caused deep disquiet on both sides of the political divide. In 2012, two republicans, Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, were found guilty of his murder and jailed for life.
At the pair’s appeal, it will be claimed that the main witness against them, a man known only as witness M, is a “compulsive liar”. The case has attracted attention because a new defence witness was arrested in April, just before the appeal was originally due to be heard, which led to a postponement until October.
“It seems to us there is such a high level of uncertainty as to the factual circumstances surrounding the position that we are faced with having no alternative but to adjourn this appeal,” said the lord chief justice, Sir Declan Morgan, in postponing the appeal.
The defence lawyers have argued that the prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence, mainly from witness M. They claim that he was known as a “Walter Mitty” character and that his evidence cannot be relied on.
The defence barrister Barry Macdonald told the earlier appeal court hearing that the prosecution case in the original trial had relied heavily on this evidence in which M claimed to have seen McConville among a group of men close to the scene where Carroll was killed.
Macdonald said a new witness had emerged who had made a sworn affidavit in which he described M as a compulsive liar. The barrister alleged that police had arrested this new witness and questioned him before he was released without charge. “It appears to have been an attempt to sabotage the appeal,” Macdonald told the court.
A campaign, which has the backing of Gerry Conlon, who was falsely imprisoned for 15 years as a member of the Guildford Four before being released in 1989, argues that the case against McConville and Wootton was “inconclusive, contradictory and in places discredited”.
Conlon said: “We can’t have innocent people going to jail and 15 years down the line them being released, their lives ruined … I believe a miscarriage of justice took place here on the basis of all the evidence I have read.”
Campaigners claim the men were victims of a system that “sought to find suitable scapegoats in the wake of the political and media backlash following the killing”.
Carroll was not only the first officer to be killed after the Good Friday agreement but his death came shortly after the attack on the Massereene barracks in which two British soldiers were killed. All three killings were widely condemned.
With many thanks to : Duncan Campbell, The Guardian.
Courts to test ‘battered woman defence’ in drugs cases
Miscarriages of justice body refers case of Goldie Coats to the court of appeal
13 Feb 2012
Ratings scheme for advocates will be misused by criminals, judge warns
Plan will encourage more criminals to appeal against convictions and turn lawyers into sycophants, says Lord Justice Moses
9 Jan 2012
DNA and car tracker ‘link suspects to Northern Ireland policeman’s death’
Trial starts into 2009 terrorist killing of PSNI officer Constable Stephen Carroll in Craigavon, north Armagh
24 May 2011