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Jamie Bryson and ex-Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay lose battle to halt prosecution over Stormont inquiry ‘conspiracy’

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Former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay

Former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay

Cliff Donaldson

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson

Pacemaker

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Former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay

A loyalist activist and a former Sinn Fein MLA have lost a legal battle to halt their ongoing prosecution over an alleged attempt to subvert a Stormont inquiry into a billion pound property deal.

Jamie Bryson and Daithi McKay were seeking to quash decisions to return them both for trial on a charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

But senior judges rejected claims there was insufficient evidence and that the committal process had been unfair.

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan also said the delay caused by their challenges was not in the interest of either the accused or the public.

She stated: "This has been an unnecessary distraction in a case which is important and which should now be brought to a conclusion before the relevant court, which we consider to be the Crown Court."

Proceedings relate to a Stormont Finance Committee inquiry into the £1.2bn sale of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama)'s Northern Ireland property loan portfolio to US investment giant Cerberus.

In September 2015 Mr Bryson gave evidence at the hearing chaired by Mr McKay.

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Using parliamentary privilege, he made an unsubstantiated allegation about who was set to profit from the deal.

Following a police investigation Mr Bryson, Mr McKay, and Sinn Fein member Thomas O'Hara were all charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

The prosecution centres on Twitter messages they allegedly exchanged before the evidence-giving session.

Judicial review challenges were mounted after a district judge determined earlier this year that they should stand trial at the Crown Court.

Lawyers for Mr Bryson and Mr McKay argued that a change in the specific of the charge rendered the committal process unfair.

It was also contended that there was insufficient evidence, and that the decision breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

During a two-day hearing judges were told any Twitter messages do not establish a criminal offence of misconduct in a public office.

Mr Bryson's barrister claimed it was a miscarriage of justice to return someone for trail on an offence which does not exist.

The high-profile loyalist was merely telling the truth on an issue of public importance, the court heard.

But counsel for the prosecution described the challenge as a dangerous attempt to thwart and end the criminal process.

He insisted a trial is necessary to examine any alleged attempts to subvert the Stormont inquiry, with legal safeguards available in the Crown Court.

Delivering judgment, Dame Siobhan stressed no view was being taken on the ultimate outcome of the prosecution.

But she held: "We cannot see that there was any unfairness or prejudice caused."

Based on the exchanges between the defendants, the Lady Chief Justice said there was sufficient evidence to meet the committal test.

"The interpretation to be applied to this is another matter to be determined at trial," she added.

"We accept the point that there was no express Assembly rule prohibiting contact with a witness, however it is obvious that this case goes beyond contact between committee members and witnesses into an alleged manipulation of the committee process itself."

Dismissing the legal challenges, she confirmed: "There was enough to justify committing the applicants for trial. Overall we do not consider the District Judge has fallen into error in applying the statutory test.

"Any complaints or substantive arguments made in relation to the adequacy of the evidence, and/or Convention rights, can very well be accommodated within the criminal trial process."


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