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Robert McCartney's sisters revealed as key witnesses in IRA trial that collapsed

By Adrain Rutherford

Published 12/06/2015

Robert McCartney’s sisters (from left) Paula, Catherine and Claire (far right) and his partner Briege (second from right)
Robert McCartney’s sisters (from left) Paula, Catherine and Claire (far right) and his partner Briege (second from right)

The sisters of murder victim Robert McCartney have been revealed as the key witnesses in a major IRA trial that collapsed - after a court challenge from the Belfast Telegraph.

Leading republicans Padraic Wilson and Sean Hughes were due to go on trial on charges of belonging to a proscribed organisation and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA.

The case collapsed last week after the key prosecution witnesses withdrew.

Wilson and Hughes were acquitted of all charges. Until yesterday the media were banned by a court order from reporting the identity of the witnesses.

A judge has now lifted a ban on naming some after a challenge to the reporting restrictions by Independent News and Media, the publishers of the Belfast Telegraph.

Belfast Telegraph editor Gail Walker said: "We are, of course, delighted with the outcome of our application to the court today, which allows Robert McCartney's sisters to comment publicly, for the first time, on the collapse of the trial of Padraic Wilson and Sean Hughes. The Belfast Telegraph is committed to the principle of open justice and we shall continue to challenge manifestly excessive reporting restrictions in the public interest."

The McCartney sisters led a high-profile campaign for justice after their brother was stabbed to death outside a Belfast pub in January 2005.

The family always maintained that IRA members were involved in Robert's murder. Yesterday it was claimed the recent murder of 'Jock' Davison was a factor in one of the sisters' decision to withdraw her evidence. Davison, a one-time IRA commander, was gunned down in the Markets area of south Belfast on May 5.

The Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory said the killing left one witness with "no appetite" to proceed. Appearing before the Assembly's justice committee, Mr McGrory also defended the PPS's handling of the case.

"The witnesses withdrew from the case but their withdrawal statements make no criticism of the PPS, although one witness did make comments which were critical of the PPS," he said.

The committee meeting got under way shortly before the anonymity orders were lifted at Belfast Crown Court.

Mr McGrory said he was limited in what he could say.

"The PPS would not accept that there was anything the PPS could have done that it didn't do in the prosecution of that case. The complaint was brought quite some years after the event. The PPS is satisfied the appropriate charges were brought against the appropriate individuals.

"It is with regret that the witnesses, after the murder of an individual, felt in their point of view there was no need to go ahead with the case. One of their withdrawal statements makes it very clear that the murder of Jock Davison was an influential factor in the witness no longer having an appetite to proceed.

"There were other reasons for that case collapsing that were outside the control of the PPS, and I'm afraid I'm not accepting that there was any wrongdoing on our part in the context of that case."

Yesterday counsel for Independent News and Media said the McCartney sisters "neither wanted nor needed" the protection of the reporting restrictions. The judge said he was lifting the ban because "the principle of open justice does apply".

Belfast Telegraph

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