Republican Colin Duffy has walked free from five murder charges since 1993


AT ANTRIM Crown Court yesterday Lurgan republican 44-year-old Colin Duffy was cleared of murder for the third time. Since 1993 he has faced five murder charges including those of British soldiers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey – but ultimately in all cases walked free.

For well over 20 years now Mr Duffy has been a prominent republican. And for as many years he has been targeted by loyalists and come under the suspicious attention of both the RUC and the PSNI. The level of contempt is mutual. Many times Mr Duffy accused the police of waging a vendetta against him and of colluding with loyalists so that he could be taken out.

He was almost murdered in a loyalist attack in March 1990 which also led to allegations of RUC collusion. In January that year Mr Duffy and republican associates, Tony McCaughey and Sam Marshall, were arrested and charged after a small quantity of ammunition was found in Mr McCaughey’s home in Lurgan.

They were eventually granted bail on condition that they sign at Lurgan RUC station. On March 7th when heading to and from the station to meet the bail conditions they were tailed by what turned out to be an RUC surveillance car. Shortly after they spotted a red Rover car.

They became suspicious but before they could get away two men got out of the vehicle and sprayed them with AK 47 gunfire. Mr Marshall’s last words to his companions, before he died, are said to have been: “We were let out to be set up.”

Three years later in June 1993 Mr Duffy was charged with the murder of retired Ulster Defence Regiment soldier John Lyness, who was shot outside his home in Lurgan. Mr Duffy was convicted and sentenced to life. He was released, however, after 3½ years when an appeal court found evidence used to convict him could not be relied upon.

In June 1997, RUC constable John Graham and reserve constable David Johnston were shot dead by two IRA men while they were on foot patrol in Lurgan – the last two RUC officers to be murdered before the second IRA ceasefire the following month. Mr Duffy was blamed but murder charges against him were dropped in October that year.

His solicitor in the 1993 and 1997 murder cases was local solicitor Rosemary Nelson, who was herself murdered by the Loyalist Volunteer Force less than two years later.

During the Nelson inquiry, evidence was given that Mr Duffy had an affair with Ms Nelson but the Nelson family’s solicitor, now Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory said there was no “evidential basis” for the claim.

When the IRA and Sinn Féin finally and fully embraced the peace process Mr Duffy rejected it. He was associated with the Éirígí group – which says it does not advocate violence but opposes the current political settlement – and was at several of its protests.