Northern Ireland

Martin McCauley: 'Grave misconduct' as weapons offence quashed

Mr McCauley, seen here in the middle, was arrested along with Niall Connolly and James Monaghan in Colombia in 2001 Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr McCauley, seen here in the middle, was arrested along with Niall Connolly and James Monaghan in Colombia in 2001

The Court of Appeal has given detailed reasons why a conviction of one of the so-called Colombia Three for a weapons offence was quashed.

Martin McCauley was seriously wounded and a teenager killed when police opened fire on a County Armagh hayshed in 1982.

After the so-called shoot-to-kill incident, he was convicted of possession of three rifles found inside the shed.

In May the conviction was ruled unsafe.

The Court of Appeal in Belfast has been examining the conviction for which McCauley received a two-year suspended jail sentence.

Police claimed McCauley confronted them with a rifle at the hayshed 32 years ago during the incident.

He was seriously injured and Michael Tighe, 17, was killed when Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers opened fire. McAuley had insisted he and Michael Tighe had not been armed and that the police opened fire without warning.

Eavesdropping operation

An investigation by the Northern Ireland Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) found that there was an eavesdropping operation at the hayshed before and during the shooting. Its existence was discovered by the former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir John Stalker, as part of his investigation into allegations that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was operating a shoot to kill policy.

Tape recordings revealed that no warnings were shouted by the officers before they opened fire. The CCRC also found a memo from an officer who said that he had learnt that the RUC officers had exceeded their orders and shot the men without giving them a chance to surrender.

The CCRC found that although the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was aware of the eavesdropping operation, they were not told about the recordings. A meeting between the deputy head of special branch and the DPP, suggests that he deliberately misled them by concealing the operation.

He then had the tapes and logs destroyed because of the embarrassment they might cause.

Consideration by the Court of Appeal

Martin McCauley submitted that his prosecution and conviction constituted an abuse of process and the Court of Appeal should find his conviction unsafe.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, said there were a number of questions to be considered when deciding if Martin McCauley's trial was unfair.

"It is not possible now to determine what was recorded in relation to the events immediately after the shooting but the misconduct of the police in deliberately destroying this source of evidence deprived the appellant of the opportunity to examine the product of the device for the purpose of assisting his defence on that issue.

"In those circumstances the deliberate destruction of the first tape and the withholding of the copy tape by the Security Service in our view rendered the appellant's trial unfair. On that ground alone, the conviction is unsafe."

"Grave misconduct"

The Lord Chief Justice added that this was a case where the police officers involved in the shooting lied to the investigating team when providing their original statements, at the direction of senior officers. The tape, which was relevant evidence, was deliberately destroyed and the Lord Chief Justice said that it was "at least arguable that this amounted to a perversion of the course of justice,"

The Lord Chief Justice said that the failure of the Security Service to disclose the tape and to provide it to the prosecution was "reprehensible".

"In our view these matters amounted cumulatively to grave misconduct. In considering the balance it is at least some mitigation that the police officers did not attempt to stand over their initial untrue account by the time they came to give evidence," he said.

"For the reasons already given we consider that the appellant was prejudiced."

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