Monday, 1 September 2014

Free the Craigavon Two!

Two men are currently imprisoned in Maghaberry after being convicted on the most questionable evidence following the most unconvincing of trials and subsequent farce of an appeal. Sadly this is one more in a long line of miscarriages of justice perpetrated by the British justice System.

The easiest option in the majority of cases would be to remain silent particularly when it doesn't affect  you or the people closest to you. However the case of these two men who have become known as the Craigavon Two is a case that should be of great concern to all, particularly to people in the North of Ireland who know only too well of injustices, miscarriage of justice and of a litany of people who spent years in jail for crimes they did not commit. The Craigavon two have protested their innocence since their arrest for the murder PNSI Constable Stephen Carroll who was callously gunned down whilst on duty in 2009.

Yet in this an era of normalisation the case is not being given the attention it so desperately deserves, with our politicians and moral guardians remaining surprisingly silent despite the case bearing all the hallmarks of political expediency.

The recent appeal to have the men freed was later dismissed despite the evident holes in the case. Having read the official campaign literature and court judgement the following points are prominent: The star witness in the case whose identity remains hidden is known as witness M and is alleged have gained financially from his involvement in the case. His testimony was submitted 11 months after the murder when he is said to have first contacted the police, whilst under the influence of alcohol. This witness has been described by his own family member as a Walter Mitty something which would seem to have been corroborated by his failure to give honest answers during the trial.

The more concerning but not surprising aspects of the case stem from allegations of police harassment and interference, including the arrest of a witness for the defence and attempts to sully the professional integrity of the legal team involved in the case.

Furthermore it has been alleged that the British Security Services tampered with surveillance equipment resulting in the disappearance of alleged evidence from a tracking device which was said to have been Planted in John Paul Wooton's car. With these factors in mind we can only conclude that this case involves an element of malevolence and exposes the inbuilt weaknesses in the British justice system and failings of the PSNI to carry out a robust and comprehensive investigation into the Carroll killing. As a result two men Brendan McConville and John Paul Wooton are languishing in prison cells on the strength of missing and circumstantial evidence and on the word of a Walter Mitty with an alleged vested interest.

One of the main campaigners for the two was the late Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four. Prior to the Craigavon Two appeal Gerry voiced his disappointment over the silence of nationalist politicians, reminding them of how their silence could be construed as acceptance of a case that was and remains inherently flawed.

Over the past decades many miscarriages of Justice have been exposed with the accused and truth seemingly lost in a quagmire of red tape for years before any possibility of appeal, as again was witnessed in the case of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four who was also shunted from prison to prison by successive British Governments in an attempt to curtail his campaign to prove his innocence and that of his co-accused.

Here are but a few cases of miscarriages of justice which saw convictions secured due to non-disclosure of evidence, questionable evidence, forced statements, the fabrication of evidence, police interference and what was clearly conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Derek Bentley
On January 28th 1953 19 year old Derek Bentley the last person to be hanged in Britain was executed in Wandsworth Gaol for his part in the killing of a police officer. Among the factors that led to his conviction was the fact the jury heard no evidence of his learning disabilities over the period of his two day trial. Scientific evidence later proved that the three police officers who gave evidence on Bentley shouting "Let him have it" had lied under oath. Forty five years later Derek Bentley's name was cleared having been denied the right to a fair trial.

Gerry Conlon

The cases of the Guildford Four were quashed by the Court appeal in 1989 after they spent 15 years in prison. Surprisingly in 1993 three retired detectives were acquitted of fabricating evidence and conspiracy to pervert the court of justice. Sir John May's inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings which was published in 1994, criticised every stage of the process that led to the abuse and imprisonment of the Guildford Four.

In the case of the Maguire Seven their convictions were ruled unsafe in 1990 following an inquiry which exposed flaws in the police's forensic evidence which was used to secure their convictions. On further examination it was found that the traces of nitroglycerine found on their hands and gloves were the result of innocent contamination.

The Birmingham Six

In the case of the Birmingham Six , six Irish men living in England were wrongly convicted in 1975 of bombing the Mulberry Bush bar in Birmingham in 1974. The convicted men served more than 16 years in jail until 1991 when the court of appeal quashed their conviction. The six men were partly convicted on forensic evidence which was later discredited with officers involved in the case accused of tampering with evidence, however prosecutions against those officers were shelved in 1993.

Judith Ward

 Judith Ward was convicted in 1974 of the M62 coach bombing in which 12 soldiers and their family members were killed it was later found that she spent 17 years in prison for crimes she did not commit. During her appeal her legal team stated there had been "significant and substantial" non-disclosure of information to the defense coupled with a failure to acknowledge her mental health state.

The Bridgewater Three
The Bridgewater Three were jailed in 1978 and spent 18 years in prison for the murder of Staffordshire newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater. Appeal judges were advised that two policemen had probably fabricated an important statement. Due to the efforts of forensic scientists, the crown prosecution service accepted that the trial was"fundamentally flawed" from the outset. A fourth man Patrick Molloy who had been convicted of manslaughter and died in prison in 1981 also had his conviction reversed posthumous. Patrick Molloy had previously claimed that a “vein of corruption and dishonesty” permeated the entire proceedings.

Liam Holden

In 2012 Liam Holden who was the last man handed the death sentence in the United Kingdom had his conviction for murdering a British paratrooper quashed after telling a court he confessed at gunpoint having being subjected to water boarding by members of the parachute regiment, water boarding is form of torture used to simulate drowning. Holden spent 17 years in prison after having his death sentence lessened to a term of life imprisonment and was later released on licence in 1989.

Patrick Livingstone

In 2013 Patrick Livingstone had his conviction for the murder Samuel Llewellyn in 1975 quashed. Livingstone was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1977. During the hearing Senior judges announced their unease over the safety of the verdict returned at the time on Patrick Livingstone. The appeal judges ruled that the the statement was secured following alleged brutality from the RUC officers involved in the case.

Today the use of immunity orders allow state protection for those who could be considered guilty of perverting the course of justice and I doubt the soldiers involved in the torture of Liam Holden or the RUC officers involved in the abuse of Pat Livingstone will ever seen the inside of a court or gaol cell for their brutal tactics which led to innocent men been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

Bearing the above cases in mind is it really so hard to believe that the Craigavon Two have been wrongly convicted? With the farce of a trial, farcical evidence and farcical appeal proceedings coupled with the ongoing silence of politicians, clergy, civic and community leaders the worry is who is next?

In the absence of someone like Gerry Conlon who experienced a miscarriage of justice first hand we must do all we can to highlight and support the campaign to free John Paul Wooton and Brendan McConville, prisoners of convenience and political expedience.

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