A man jailed for the horrific double murder of two teenage friends failed yesterday to have his convictions overturned.
The Court of Appeal ruled there was nothing unsafe about the non-jury verdict that Steven Leslie Brown killed David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb in February 2000.
The 18 and 19-year-old victims' badly mutilated bodies were discovered on an isolated country road near Tandragee, Co Armagh.
Brown (30), also known as Steven Revels, was convicted in March 2009 of the murders which were described by the trial judge as among the most gruesome of the past 40 years in Northern Ireland.
He was sentenced to serve a minimum of 35 years in prison.
It emerged at the trial that on the night they died, the teenagers were drinking with Brown along with loyalist supergrass Mark Burcombe and another man, Noel Dillon, who has since killed himself.
Andrew Robb is alleged to have made insulting remarks about UVF commander Richard Jameson, who had been gunned down by the rival LVF two weeks previously. According to the prosecution, Brown took exception to the comments, and drove the group to a remote area where the friends were stabbed to death.
Burcombe, who is now reported to be in a witness protection programme, was initially also charged with the murders.
But he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after agreeing to testify against his co-accused.
The appeal against conviction centred on the reliance placed on Burcombe's evidence.
Lawyers for Brown argued that Burcombe was himself a central participant in the killings, and an implausible and inconsistent witness who lacked any credibility.
But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justice Higgins and Mr Justice McCloskey, held that the trial judge had meticulously and carefully reviewed his evidence, subjecting it to rigorous scrutiny.
He said: “We can find no error in the approach of the learned trial judge.
“We do not consider that these convictions are unsafe and for the reasons given we dismiss the appeals.”
A further tariff hearing on the minimum jail term Brown must serve is to take place next month.
David McIlwaine's father Paul, who was in court with other relatives of both victims, expressed relief at the verdict. He said: “As far as I was concerned it was a hopeless appeal.”