Conviction for falsely holding informer quashed

 

Yesterday's events go back to the taking captive of IRA informer Sandy Lynch in 1990, writes Gerry Moriarty

DANNY MORRISON, writer and formerly Sinn Féin's propagandist in chief, walked out of the law courts in Belfast yesterday morning with a clean record.

Morrison is the man who coined the phrase about pursuing republican goals with "an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other".

He was much relieved yesterday after a 1991 conviction - the only one against him in a long republican career - had just been declared unsafe by the Court of Appeal.

This is an intriguing "dirty war" story of Freddie Scappaticci, who allegedly was the highly placed agent "Stakeknife", of the IRA and of spies and informers.

Morrison says the case against him hinged on determination on the part of the RUC and British security services to put him in prison because he was such a high-profile republican.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Brian Kerr of the three-judge Court of Appeal took less than a minute to quash the original conviction that in May 1991 landed Morrison with an eight-year prison sentence. Five others received similar sentences, with two staying out of prison with suspended sentences.

Such was the brevity of the judgment yesterday that some of the eight were outside the court drinking coffee and missed the judge's delivery.

The judge did not explain why the original case was unsafe because of a confidentiality clause under which the appeal was taken.

Sir Brian Kerr indicated his willingness to explain this "secret annex", but the counsel for the prosecution asked that it remain secret. The court is due to adjudicate in about three weeks as to whether the information can be revealed.

The case goes back to Friday, January 5th, 1990, when IRA member and former INLA man Sandy Lynch was taken captive by the IRA and interrogated by Scappaticci and other members of the IRA's so-called "nutting squad".

Over five years ago Scappaticci was outed as an agent, and after a period of denials he was spirited away to safety. During his time as a senior figure in the IRA's internal security department, the "nutting squad" is believed to have killed more than 30 suspected informers, some of whom were undoubtedly innocent of any such charges.

This raised serious moral questions on many levels - but particularly because Scappaticci was allegedly an informer or British agent at the time.

Lynch ended up in a house in Carrigart Avenue, in Lenadoon, west Belfast. During the interrogation, Scappaticci allegedly called him a "touting bastard", spoke of him ending "upside down in a cattle shed" in south Armagh, and asked how his wife, who had recently suffered a miscarriage, would feel having to identify Lynch with no face because when he was finished with him he would have no face.

There was also a suggestion that if he admitted being an informer he might not be killed.

"You don't do deals with the IRA," Lynch told the trial. "The only place you go from an IRA interrogation is to the grave."

This seemed a reasonable point of view considering Scappaticci's known ruthlessness and the fate of others exposed as informers. Moreover, the house in Carrigart Avenue was used a year earlier for an interrogation after which another alleged IRA informer, Joseph Fenton, was murdered by the IRA.

Eventually Lynch broke and admitted in writing and on tape that he was an informer. It was only on the Sunday that Morrison went to the house, he told the trial. His story was that he was asked to go there by the IRA to examine the usefulness of setting up a press conference at which Lynch would admit that he was an agent and spill stories that would embarrass the police.

Morrison's reading of events was that Lynch and Scappaticci had conspired with RUC Special Branch and possibly MI5 to set him up. "It was Freddie Scappaticci who sent for me to come to Carrigart Avenue, and when I arrived there the army and police arrived afterwards," he said.

"The whole thing was a set-up from beginning to end. Clearly the appeal court, having reviewed the evidence and read what was in the secret annex, appear to have come to that conclusion as well. I believe that Scappaticci set me up. I believe that Scappaticci is the agent Stakeknife."

When Morrison approached the house on the Sunday he became uneasy, knowing that as soon as he crossed the threshold he could be compromised, he told the trial. Nonetheless he went inside, and almost immediately the house was raided by the British army and police. Scappaticci had already fled. Morrison managed to escape to a house next door, and when apprehended there he failed in his bluff that he was just visiting.

His overall defence didn't wash with the then Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Hutton. He acquitted Morrison of a conspiracy to murder charge but convicted him of false imprisonment.

Morrison failed in a subsequent appeal in 1992. In 2004 he and fellow republican Gerard Hodgins, who received a 10-year sentence, submitted their cases to the Criminal Cases Review Commission which deals with alleged miscarriages of justice. Others of the eight also put their cases for appeals to the commission, though not all.

Eventually the commission wrote to suggest that all eight should appeal - rather surprisingly including two who had pleaded guilty in 1991.

The reasons for the referral were provided to the Court of Appeal in the secret annex, but not publicly disclosed.

As Morrison said yesterday, whatever was in the annex must have been pretty explosive because it was the basis for the case against all eight crumbling, including the two who pleaded guilty.

Morrison and some if not all of the others plan to take a case for compensation. He hopes that he will be able to travel freely to North America in future.

His partner is Canadian, and every time he wants to go there he must acquire a special waiver which costs "hundreds of pounds".

He has had four books published in the US, but couldn't promote them because he is denied a visa.

Does he expect the US to finally grant him one now? "That depends if my candidate Barack Obama get elected president," said Morrison.