SF MLA and journalist's murder convictions quashed

 

Murder charges levelled against a Sinn Féin MLA and a Derry-based journalist were yesterday quashed in the Court of Appeal in Belfast after a judge spoke of a "distinct feeling of unease" about the safety of the convictions.

Raymond McCartney and Eamonn MacDermott were cleared of the convictions for which they had both spent time in prison after three High Court judges ruled evidence given by police officers at the murder trials "may have been discredited by evidence which is now available".

Speaking after the convictions were quashed, Mr McCartney said the ruling was a vindication for all those who took to the streets and marched over the conditions of prisoners at the time.

Mr McCartney, a Sinn Féin MLA in Derry, was sentenced in 1979 for the murders of local industrialist Jeff Agate and RUC constable Patrick McNulty.

He has always maintained that while being held in Castlereagh holding centre in Belfast, he was repeatedly beaten and the verbal admissions and written statements about the 1977 murders - the only evidence against him - were concocted by the police officers who beat him.

Mr MacDermott, who was 19 at the time of his arrest, was also jailed for the murder of Patrick McNulty and he made claims of ill-treatment and assaults by police while in Castlereagh.

He claimed he was beaten prior to making his admission on which the prosecution case was based and was pinched, throttled and punched in the stomach.

During the hearing in the Court of Appeal, the three judges heard that John Donnelly, another Derry man who was arrested and questioned about the murder of Mr Agate but who was not charged, also claimed he was badly beaten while being questioned at Castlereagh.

A subsequent investigation concluded that Mr Donnelly has been assaulted by police.