Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Taxi driver jailed for loyalist post office heist clears his name - 40 years later

Police and prosecution failed to disclose an alibi that placed the Shankill man at his taxi depot on the day of the robbery

Frank Newell has his conviction for armed robbery overturned after 40 years today. Mr Newell (centre) was convicted in 1973 of robbing a post office at gunpoint. He is pictured with his son Frank, daughter Franchine Young, his wife Myrtle and daughter Angela outside the High Court in Belfast. 
Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye.
Frank Newell has his conviction for armed robbery overturned after 40 years today. Mr Newell (centre) was convicted in 1973 of robbing a post office at gunpoint. He is pictured with his son Frank, daughter Franchine Young, his wife Myrtle and daughter Angela outside the High Court in Belfast. Photo-Jonathan Porter/Presseye.

A former taxi driver jailed for the armed robbery of a post office today won a 40 year battle to clear his name.

Senior judges in Belfast quashed Frank Newell's conviction based on the non-disclosure of crucial material undermining the prosecution case.

Mr Newell was originally sentenced to four years in prison for the loyalist paramilitary-linked heist carried out in Lisburn, Co Antrim back in August 1973.

The 73-year-old, from Belfast's Shankill Road, then had his jail term doubled when a first appeal was thrown out.

But he continued to protest his innocence, insisting that his car was hijacked by those who did steal £3,000 in the armed robbery.

His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal after being studied by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, a body which examines potential miscarriages of justice.

Defence lawyers today argued that police and the prosecution failed to disclose three categories of information during the non-jury trial:

:: Details of an alibi statement from colleagues placing Mr Newell at his taxi depot on the day of the robbery.

:: Discrepancies in witness identification statements.

:: Police intelligence pointing to both his innocence and to the real culprits having Ulster Volunteer Force connections.

The court heard Mr Newell had been scared to name those who hijacked his car because of the consequences for him and his family.

His barrister, Karen Quinlivan QC, pointed to evidence back in the 1970s that high-ranking police officers believed her client was innocent.

"You have significant body within the RUC and beyond expressing concern about the safety of the conviction, but nobody seems to take the next step," she said.

Urging the three-judge panel to quash the conviction, she insisted: "Mr Newell has been an unfortunate victim of a miscarriage of justice and spent four years in custody.

"It has caused him great stress and anxiety, even still."

At one stage in the hearing Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, reflected: "It does appear that there are periods when there was a disconnect between the investigative criminal justice branch of the police and the intelligence side of the police."

Following submissions he then confirmed: "We are satisfied this is a case where we should allow the appeal."

Full written reasons for the decision will be given at a later stage.

Mr Newell, who was in court with his wife Myrtle and their three children, hugged his legal representatives after the decision was announced.

He said outside: "I feel great that this is all over and I have been declared an innocent man."

His daughter, Franchine Young, added: "We are absolutely delighted. This has been a long time coming, it's been a stigma hanging over us."

She also told how the family's battle to have the conviction overturned involved lobbying and campaigning government representatives.

Human rights group the Committee on the Administration of Justice also fought to get the case heard.

CAJ representative Gemma McKeown said: "We're delighted our client's conviction has been quashed, and question why the prosecution was taken at the time."

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