Northern Ireland

Joint enterprise: Thomas Devlin's mother says ruling should not affect convictions

Thomas Devlin
Image caption Belfast schoolboy Thomas Devlin, 15, was stabbed to death just yards from his family home in August 2005

A mother who campaigned for the law of joint enterprise to be used to bring her son's killers to justice has said she does not believe a Supreme Court ruling will affect their convictions.

The law allows suspects to be convicted of murder, even if they did not inflict the fatal blow, provided they could have foreseen violence by associates.

It was used in the case of Penny Holloway's son Thomas Devlin.

The Supreme Court has now ruled the law has been wrongly applied since 1984.

Thursday's judgement said it was wrong to treat "foresight" as a sufficient test to convict someone of murder.

What is the controversial 'joint enterprise' law?

Ms Holloway led a high-profile campaign after her 15-year-old son was stabbed just yards from their family home after he went out to his local shop to buy sweets on a summer evening.

The schoolboy and his two young friends were chased and injured in an unprovoked attack by older youths, during which Thomas was beaten and stabbed nine times. He died of his injuries.

Image caption Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown were both convicted of murdering Thomas Devlin and received life sentences

During the murder investigation, Ms Holloway expressed frustration at the authorities' approach to joint enterprise, accusing the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) of failing the people of Northern Ireland.

In 2008, she called on the PPS to follow the "robust" example of the Crown Prosecution Service in England, where everyone involved in a murder would be held responsible for it.

A mother's fight for justice

The criminal case took almost five years to complete, but in 2010 his killers, Belfast men Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown, were both jailed for life for murdering Thomas.

As he passed sentence, the trial judge said: "It is plain that you Gary Taylor were the principal, you are the killer."

The judge then told Brown that although he had played a "secondary" role in the murder, his "conviction demonstrates that those who engage in violence willingly must take full responsibility, not just for what they do themselves, but for the actions of others that they go about with and with whom they act in concert".

The murder convictions were upheld after both men appealed in 2012, but the following year the Court of Appeal has ruled Brown's 22-year tariff should be reduced by two years because he had disclosed his involvement in the attack.

Ms Holloway said both Taylor and Brown had shown intent before and during the attack.

"The basis on which the convictions were delivered in terms of Thomas's case was that the courts decided that there was clear intent by both people to engage in that attack," she said.

"So I think it is different to the case that was before the Supreme Court.

"They both left that night with weapons and they both engaged in that attack on the three boys and that was decided in a number of court hearings and the court of appeal decision by the lord chief justice is clear about that."

Image caption Penny Holloway said both men convicted of the murder had been shown to have engaged in the attack

Thursday's Supreme Court ruling does not mean those convicted under joint enterprise would automatically be able to appeal, as they would have to prove that they have suffered "substantial injustice".

Ms Holloway said it would be up to the courts to decide if her son's killers have any basis to appeal their convictions.

"Obviously the people who were involved will decide whether they want to pursue an appeal on the basis of this supreme court decision," she said.

"It will be for the courts to decide whether they have a case under this new ruling or not."

Gerard McNamara, a solicitor representing Nigel Brown, said they have been waiting on the ruling from the Supreme Court.

"Joint enterprise formed an important part of the prosecution case against our client," he said.

"He has always denied being part of a joint enterprise. We will be consulting with him immediately with a view to an application to reopen his case."

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