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Shotgun murderers' legal bid to overturn convictions is rejected

By Alan Erwin

Published 13/06/2015

Killer: Jimmy Seales
Killer: Jimmy Seales

Two men jailed for a shotgun killing in Co Down have failed in attempts to overturn their murder convictions.

Judges in the Court of Appeal rejected all grounds of challenge advanced by wealthy pig farmer Jimmy Seales and his co-accused Stephen McCaughey.

The pair are serving life sentences for the murder of Philip Strickland in Comber in January 2012.

Mr Strickland (37) was found dead in his Citroen Saxo car on the Ballydrain Road.

He had been shot in the leg at a nearby yard before being bundled into the boot of his own car and driven to the murder scene, where he was blasted in the face at point-blank range.

Seales (57), formerly of Ballykeel Road, Hillsborough, is serving a minimum 15-year prison term for the killing. McCaughey (27), from Shackleton Walk in Newtownards, was ordered to serve at least 10 years behind bars.

Two of Seales' sons, Ian and Jason Weir, of Derryboye Road and Raffery Road, near Killinchy, Co Down, had earlier pleaded guilty to the murder.

During the trial Ian Weir placed his father at the scene of the shooting, armed with a shotgun.

During a two-day appeal hearing counsel for Seales attacked the credibility of his son's account.

It was claimed that evidence about the depth of Ian Weir's alleged "hatred" for his father was not put before the jury.

Seales's barrister argued he was not able to fully cross-examine Ian Weir about a gun found buried in his garden.

The same weapon was said to have been used in an apparent attempt on his father's life.

Although no allegation was ever made that Ian Weir had fired a shot at Seales, defence lawyers contended that his link to the gun could have provided compelling evidence of the depth of his hatred.

Lord Justice Gillen held there was no significance to the point.

Sitting with Lord Justice Coghlin and Mr Justice Deeny, he also rejected claims of flaws in how the trial judge summarised parts of the defence case.

McCaughey's legal team argued that his conviction was also unsafe based on a "lurking doubt" about the evidence against him.

It was submitted that the trial judge should have granted a direction of no case to answer, partially based on claims that McCaughey only went to the yard as back-up for a "scuffle" rather than to be part of a plan to kill.

The court rejected that ground of appeal, along with further contentions about the directions to the jury and strength of the evidence.

Declaring themselves satisfied there was no lurking doubt about the verdict reached at trial, Lord Justice Gillen confirmed: "We reject the applications for leave to appeal in each case."

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