Northern Ireland

Gerry McGeough murder bid appeal dismissed

Gerry McGeough
Image caption Gerry McGeough had claimed he was promised immunity from prosecution

A former IRA man's bid to overturn his attempted murder conviction by claiming he was assured immunity by a Sinn Fein member has no merit, a court has ruled.

In 2011, Gerry McGeough was convicted of the attempted murder of part-time Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier Sammy Brush.

Lawyers for McGeough argued that criminal proceedings which led to him being jailed were an abuse of process.

Mr Brush was shot and injured in June 1981 in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

Lawyers for McGeough told the Court of Appeal that North Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly assured him in 2000 that he would not be charged if he returned to Northern Ireland from being on the run.

McGeough, 54, who escaped from hospital after being wounded when his victim returned fire in the ambush, contended that this was a binding promise on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive.

However, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan pointed to legal authorities which set out that an abuse of process depended on an unequivocal guarantee of immunity being given by those bringing the criminal case.

"We do not consider that the evidence indicates any basis for the conclusion that Mr Kelly was a representative of those responsible for the conduct of the investigation or prosecutions," the judge said.

"We further agree that in any event the statement attributed to Mr Kelly, who did not give evidence, did not contain any representation, never mind one which could be said to be unequivocal for the purpose of this test."

IRA gun-runner

Mr Brush, now a Democratic Unionist Party councillor, was working as a postman when he was shot and seriously wounded.

McGeough, 54, and from Dungannon, was convicted in 2011 of attempted murder, possession of firearms with intent to commit an indictable offence, and IRA membership.

He was jailed for 20 years but released earlier this year under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The one-time IRA gun-runner was not in court to hear the judges throw out all grounds of appeal.

Correspondence from the Northern Ireland Office to Mr Kelly in 2003 was introduced during the case.

The letter included McGeough in a list of six people who would face arrest and questioning if they returned to Northern Ireland.

As part of a disclosure process evidence was also called from William Smith of the Progressive Unionist Party.

He claimed to have attended a meeting with former secretary of state Mo Mowlam during negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It was alleged that she confirmed those who had committed offences during the terrorist campaign for which they had not been convicted would not be prosecuted.

Image caption Sammy Brush was shot and injured by McGeough in 1981

Mr Smith also stated that those who came forward to admit their crimes would serve two years in jail while those who refused to accept guilt would apparently face no punishment.

Sir Declan, sitting with lord justices Higgins and Girvan, said: "Such an outcome would be absurd.

"The learned disclosure judge concluded, in our view inevitably, that Mr Smith's evidence that the issue of on-the-runs was 'done and dusted' was difficult to accept."

McGeough also failed to establish that due to the passage of time it was unfair to try him.

Detailing his escape from hospital, subsequent proceedings against him in Europe and the United States, and period spent in the Irish Republic, Sir Declan held that any delay in the trial was his responsibility.

"We do not consider that any of the grounds of appeal have been made out and we do not consider the convictions are unsafe," the judge confirmed.

Mr Brush, who was in court for the verdict, later said he had no doubt the appeal would be thrown out.

Ridiculing McGeough's claims to have been assured immunity, Mr Brush said: "We are living in a fairy-tale land as it is, but to suggest that was going to take place is even worse."

More on this story