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Convicted murderer to challenge Stormont decision to sack him as groundskeeper

By Alan Erwin

Published 08/10/2015

A convicted murderer has won High Court permission to challenge a Stormont department over a decision to stop him continuing to work as a groundskeeper.

West Belfast man Martin Neeson is taking legal action following a determination that he is unsuitable for a job held since his release from prison 18 years ago.

He was granted leave to seek a judicial review today after his lawyers argued the move was illogical and unjustified.

His barrister also claimed there had been a failure to adopt guidance for employers on recruiting staff with conflict-related convictions.

Neeson, described as a former political prisoner, got out of jail in 1987 after serving eleven and a half years for a murder committed when he was aged 16.

No further details of the killing four decades ago were disclosed in court.

Following his release he secured groundskeeper work with a conservation charity in the Poleglass area.

But due to a technical change in the body's contractual relationship with the civil service he had to undergo security vetting.

Checks carried out by Access NI resulted in the Department of Finance and Personnel deciding last December that he is unsuitable to continue in the role.

Neeson went to Sinn Fein to seek their help in lobbying on his behalf.

But after that proved unsuccessful he issued proceedings against the Stormont department.

In court today the judge rejected claims that his case should be dismissed due to the delay in mounting a legal challenge.

Barrister Stephen Toal, representing Neeson, stressed that his client had first tried to secure a resolution through his political representatives.

Mr Toal argued that it would have been premature to seek a judicial review while those attempts were continuing.

He added that it may have resulted in a breakdown of constructive dialogue between Sinn Fein and DUP representatives.

Ultimately, however, the former prisoner had to seek a legal remedy.

It was contended that there is no rational connection between the evidence and the decision that he is unsuitable for employment in the post.

Mr Toal emphasised that Neeson has performed the role for 18 years without incident.

He claimed the Department acted unreasonably and disproportionately in a move that breached his client's legitimate expectations.

Mr Justice Colton granted leave to apply for a judicial review on the basis that an arguable case has been established.

Neeson's challenge will now proceed to a full hearing, expected to get underway in January.

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