Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Man’s ‘relief’ at quashing of 1976 terror conviction

A man who was the victim of a miscarriage of justice 30 years ago has told of his relief at having his conviction overturned.

Peter Joseph McDonald from Co Londonderry was just 16 when he signed a confession in police custody for an alleged shooting he says he never committed.

Now more than three decades on his name will finally be cleared today.

It is expected the Court of Appeal will officially quash Mr McDonald’s conviction along with two other Derry men, Eric Wright and James Henry Brown.

The three were arrested on suspicion of terrorist-related activity, including in one case, membership of the IRA's youth wing, between 1976 and 1977.

Because they were aged 16 at the time of their detention, under Judges' Rules, then in operation, they should have been interviewed in the presence of a solicitor and an appropriate adult. Their cases were referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission due to alleged breaches of these regulations by police.

It was also claimed they were ill-treated during their period in custody.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Mr McDonald explained the decision by the Appeal Court to quash his conviction meant he could finally move forward with his life.

“I say this without any contradiction but tomorrow will be the greatest day of my life,” a relieved Mr McDonald explained. “I held these convictions for 34 years and they held me.

“I should have never been convicted. At least now, for once and for all, our names are being cleared.”

For the past 34 years Mr McDonald said he has had to live with the stigma of having a criminal record. He claims the events of December 1976 — when he and his friend John Doherty were picked up by the military for an alleged shooting and held in police custody for three days without access to a solicitor or an appropriate adult — gave his life a “whole different direction”.

The 17-year-old was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.

The only evidence used to convict Mr McDonald was his signed confession. He was then released in 1978.

And while he only spent a short time in prison, those few years have had a lasting effect on the 49-year-old’s life.

Mr McDonald now hopes others in the same situation as himself will be encouraged to seek to have their convictions quashed.

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