Northern Ireland

Clinton and Armstrong win 30-year battle to clear names

Court
Image caption Both women had said the man left the house by his own free will

Two women convicted of falsely imprisoning a man in a case involving a suspected British agent have won a 30-year battle to clear their names.

Mary Clinton and Bernadette Armstrong had always protested their innocence over events at a house in Rathbeg Close, Downpatrick, in 1987.

On Tuesday, judges in the Court of Appeal quashed the guilty verdicts against them.

The court was told the alleged victim had wanted money to identify others.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "In all the circumstances, we have an unease about the safety of the convictions."

The alleged victim at the centre of the case was taken from the house and shot for being a suspected informer, according to papers in the case.

Sandy Lynch, a west Belfast republican later named as a state agent, was said to be involved. But neither the women, nor their legal teams, were made aware that he was an agent working for the state.

Both women had said the man left the house by his own free will, insisting they were unaware of any false imprisonment.

It was claimed that Ms Armstrong, a single mother of young children, had pleaded guilty to the charge after being told she would be sent to jail if she contested the allegations.

She received a two-year suspended sentence.

Ms Clinton fought the case at a non-jury trial and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

'Maliciously set up'

Lawyers for the two women based their appeal on the failure to reveal the involvement of a state agent.

They argued that the non-disclosure rendered the convictions unsafe.

The lawyers also referred to the quashing of convictions against former Sinn Féin director of publicity Danny Morrison and others for the unlawful imprisonment of Sandy Lynch in 1990.

A lawyer for the counsel for the Public Prosecution Service told the Court of Appeal that it was not opposing the appeals.

Gerard Simpson QC also raised serious issues about the reliability of evidence from the alleged victim, telling the court he would only identify others if he were paid money.

That man is now understood to be living at a secret location outside Northern Ireland.

Sir Declan then confirmed: "We are content to allow the appeals and set the convictions aside."

Both women left court without comment, but their legal representative insisted they should never have been found guilty in the first place.

"This was nothing but a malicious prosecution," said Gavin Booth of KRW Law.

"Our clients were maliciously set up by the state in order to protect their agent, Sandy Lynch.

"This case, and other similar cases, demonstrates how the state continued to pervert justice in order to protect their informers."