Two men who pleaded guilty to terrorist offences 30 years ago when they were teenagers have had their convictions quashed in a landmark ruling.
The Court of Appeal’s decision, based on Joseph Fitzpatrick and Terence Shiels being detained without access to a parent or lawyer, could open the floodgates to a series of applications stretching back to the 1970s.
Mr Fitzpatrick (48), from the Markets area of Belfast, was jailed for five years for membership of Fianna na hEireann — the IRA’s youth wing — and an arson attack on a motor garage in February 1977.
He was also convicted of involvement in a gun attack on an Army patrol the previous December following an alleged admission to acting as a scout for the Provisionals. In a separate case, Mr Shiels (47), from the Creggan in Derry, was held on suspicion of involvement in a shooting incident at the city’s Rosemount RUC station in March 1978.
He received a suspended jail sentence based on a written statement in which he too allegedly |admitted belonging to the Fianna and possession of a handgun.
Both men were 16 when arrested and, under the Judges’ Rules which operated at the time, all young persons in custody should be allowed to consult with a solicitor and have an appropriate adult present during interview.
Their cases were referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission because of breaches to those regulations.
It was submitted that they were each held “incommunicado” with access to parents and lawyers |denied.
With a breach of the Judges’ Rules established, and the only |evidence being the admissions of guilt, the convictions against Mr Fitzpatrick and Mr Shiels were held to be unsafe.