Killers of Thomas Devlin, Alexander McKinley, David Hamilton, Duncan Morrison, Philip Strickland and Jim McFadden lose joint bid to reopen appeals
Five murderers and woman jailed for manslaughter fail in 'joint enterprise' challenge
Five men jailed for high-profile murders in Northern Ireland have been refused permission to reopen their appeals against conviction.
Senior judges also rejected an attempt by a woman found guilty of the manslaughter of a wedding guest in Londonderry to have her case re-examined.
All six have already mounted unsuccessful attempts to have their convictions quashed.
They came together in a potentially landmark legal bid based on a Supreme Court ruling on the interpretation of joint enterprise.
But the Court of Appeal held yesterday that they should instead take their cases to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) - the body set up to examine potential miscarriages of justice.
Lord Justice Gillen stressed there is no authority for reopening previously decided cases every time a judicial adjudication clarifies or interprets the law in a particular manner.
He said: "To do so would render the legal system uncertain, incoherent and dysfunctional."
The ruling was centred only on the court's jurisdiction and did not assess the merits of each case.
Those mounting renewed challenges include one of the men jailed for the fatal knife attack on north Belfast schoolboy Thomas Devlin.
Defence lawyers want the cases re-examined following a new finding on a law that allowed people to be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow. In February the Supreme Court held that joint enterprise has been wrongly applied for more than 30 years.
The ruling, reached in the case of Ameen Jogee for the murder of former Leicestershire policeman Paul Fyfe in 2011, could eventually pave the way for hundreds of appeals.
Those seeking to rely on that verdict are:
• Nigel Brown (32), one of two men convicted of killing Thomas Devlin on Belfast's Somerton Road. The 15-year-old victim was stabbed to death, and his friend seriously wounded, as they walked home from a shop in August 2005;
• Barry Skinner (36), jailed for his role in the murder of 22-year-old Alexander McKinley. Mr McKinley was shot in the head as he sat in his sports car on Euston Street, east Belfast in October 2002;
• Mark Kincaid (34), one of three men found guilty of murdering hospital porter David Hamilton in 2004. Mr Hamilton was bludgeoned to death with blunt objects at his flat in Belfast's Ballybeen estate;
• Peter Greer (40), convicted of murdering Duncan Morrison and the attempted murder of Stephen Ritchie. Gunmen shot the victims at a flat on Hazelbrook Avenue in Bangor, Co Down in May 2011;
• Stephen McCaughey (28), who was jailed for his part in the killing of farm labourer Philip Strickland. Mr Strickland (37) was shot in the face near Comber in January 2012;
• And Brenda Meehan (47), whose original murder conviction in connection with the 2007 killing of Jim McFadden in Derry was reduced on appeal to manslaughter. Mr McFadden (42) was beaten to death at his home in Shantallow following a wedding reception in Co Donegal.
The five men involved in the challenge appeared via prison video-link.
Among those packed into the public gallery were Thomas Devlin's parents, Penny Holloway and Jim Devlin.
Preliminary legal arguments centred on whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the cases, or if they should instead be sent to the CCRC.
Counsel representing Brown contended the Jogee ruling established enough of a procedural flaw in the defendants' original appeals to render those proceedings null and void.
On that basis, he submitted, Lord Justice Gillen, Lord Justice Weatherup and Mr Justice O'Hara should agree to examine claims of substantial injustice. But a prosecution barrister countered that the CCRC is the proper forum for assessing the cases. He argued there was no irregularity in applying the law as it stood at the time of the original appeals.
Backing those submissions, Lord Justice Gillen confirmed permission to re-open the appeals was being denied. All of the appellants are now expected to advance their cases before the Commission.