Belfast Telegraph

Belfast man loses compensation bid over dad's quashed terror case

The Court of Appeal backed an earlier dismissal of Conor McNally's case
The Court of Appeal backed an earlier dismissal of Conor McNally's case

By Alan Erwin

The son of a west Belfast man whose convictions for terrorist-related offences were quashed after his death has lost a new legal battle over being denied compensation.

Conor McNally was challenging the Department of Justice's decision to refuse a pay-out after the guilty verdict against his father Stephen McCaul was ruled unsafe.

But the Court of Appeal backed an earlier dismissal of the case because it failed to meet the legal test for financial redress to those found to have suffered a miscarriage of justice.

In 1979 Mr McCaul, then aged just 16, was sentenced to three years detention for offences linked to two bus hijackings and two burglaries where shotguns were stolen.

At his trial the case against him centred on alleged admissions made during police interviews.

Defence lawyers argued those confessions should not have been admitted because they were obtained in breach of the Judges' Rules.

Mr McCaul was only 15 when questioned, had the mental age of a seven-year-old, and could not read or write, they stressed.

His family continued the fight to clear his name after he died in a road traffic accident in 1995.

Mr McCaul's convictions were finally quashed in 2012 following a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Doubts over how the admissions were obtained in the absence of a solicitor rendered the guilty verdict unsafe, appeal judges held.

However, in 2015 the Department turned down Mr McNally's application to be compensated for the miscarriage of justice on behalf of his father's estate.

Officials denied a pay-out because they were not satisfied the convictions had been quashed on the ground that a new or newly discovered fact showed, beyond reasonable doubt, a miscarriage of justice.

In 2017 the High Court refused to quash the Department's decision based on its assessment of that central issue.

Lawyers for Mr McNally challenged the ruling, claiming that a body of evidence to suggest mentally disabled young people could be more vulnerable in police interviews represents a newly discovered fact.

But the Court of Appeal held today that the case instead involved a change in legal standards subsequent to Mr McCaul's trial and conviction.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "That did not constitute the discovery of a new fact."

Dismissing the appeal, he added: "We consider that the learned trial judge was correct to conclude that the Department had made no error and that the reversal of the conviction was not on the basis of a new or newly discovered fact."

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