Ex-RUC officers cleared over perverting justice in Provo murder probe
A former detective confronted protesters outside a Belfast court after he and another ex-officer were formally cleared of perverting the course of justice during an RUC investigation into the IRA murder of a soldier in Londonderry.
John McGahan (71) and 65-year old Philip Noel Thompson each faced a charge of trying to pervert the course of justice and were due to stand trial this year.
Both men denied the charges against them.
The officers had been accused of falsifying written statements after cautioning Gerald Kieran McGowan in 1979 about the murder of Lieutenant Steven Andrew Kirby and shooting of Noel Ronald Smith.
During a brief hearing at Belfast Crown Court, the two ex-RUC men appeared in the dock whilst a jury was sworn in. Crown prosecutor David McDowell QC then told the court no evidence would be offered against the men.
Addressing the jury, Mr Justice Weir said that as the Crown was offering no evidence against the former policemen, he was directing the jury foreperson to return not guilty verdicts.
The judge told the pair: "You are free to go."
Although no details of the charges were revealed in court, it is understood that they related to an RUC investigation into the murder of Royal Welch Fusiliers officer Steven Kirby, who was shot dead by a Provisional IRA sniper in the Abercorn Road area of Derry in February 1979.
Four local teens - who subsequently became known as the 'Derry Four' - were charged with his murder, including Mr McGowan, who was named on the bill of indictment.
The four were just 17 when they fled across the border after being released on bail and remained on the run until the charges against them were dropped in 1998.
Following a complaint from Mr McGowan, the Police Ombudsman launched an investigation into claims that officers falsified statements.
The PPS decided to prosecute, but was later handed material by an Ombudsman investigator which it claimed undermined the prosecution case to the extent that it believed there was no reasonable chance of conviction.
Outside Belfast's Laganside Court after the verdicts, a group of protesters stood brandishing a banner with the words 'Justice Delayed, Justice Denied'. As he was leaving the court, Mr McGahan confronted them.
One of the protesters handed the media a letter addressed to Barry McGrory, Director of the Public Prosecution Service.
The letter - written on behalf of Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner, Gerry Kelly and Stephen Crumlish - stated they were framed for the soldier's murder by RUC officers and since then they have spent their lives "fighting this miscarriage of justice" which destroyed their lives.
The letter added: "We believe that the DPP in 1979 and the PPS today have failed in their duty of care towards us, as victims of a miscarriage of justice. Justice delayed is justice denied.
"We have endured 37 years of injustice and our fight continues."