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Belfast woman Veronica Ryan loses compensation bid after offences linked to killing of police informer quashed

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Belfast High Court

Belfast High Court

Belfast High Court

A west Belfast woman whose convictions for offences linked to the interrogation and killing of a police informer were quashed has lost her High Court battle for compensation.

Veronica Ryan challenged a former Secretary of State's decision to refuse a pay-out after she was cleared of aiding and abetting the false imprisonment of Special Branch agent Joe Fenton.

But a judge dismissed the case brought over competing legal tests and amendments to a compensation scheme.

Ms Ryan's lawyers confirmed they will appeal in an attempt to establish applicants should only have to show they suffered a miscarriage of justice, rather than the higher threshold of demonstrating innocence.

Mr Fenton was shot dead after being lured to a house in Belfast in February 1989.

Another informer, Sandy Lynch, was abducted in January the following year.

Ms Ryan and her late husband, James Martin, were jailed for aiding and abetting the two men's false imprisonment and allowing their property to be used for terrorist purposes.

However, their convictions for both incidents were later overturned following interventions by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The Court of Appeal quashed the guilty verdicts relating to Lynch in 2009.

Mr Martin was subsequently awarded nearly £368,000 in compensation, with Ms Ryan receiving just under £187,000.

In 2014 their convictions for the Fenton case were also quashed, without appeal judges disclosing why a confidential dossier rendered them unsafe.

Judicial review proceedings were launched after pay-outs for that incident were denied on the basis of the secret material.

By that stage the scheme for compensation, under the Criminal Justice Act, had been amended due to the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont in 2010.

Applications for compensation went to the Secretary of State because the confidential material involved matters of national security.

Those requests were turned down in 2017 because no new fact had emerged to demonstrate innocence beyond reasonable doubt - the test for cases in England and Wales.

Ms Ryan's lawyers claimed the lesser standard in Northern Ireland of showing a miscarriage of justice should have applied.

But counsel for the Secretary of State insisted that everyone whose convictions are overturned are not automatically entitled to a payout.

Instead, he argued, a newly discovered fact showing innocence is required.

Delivering judgment in the case, Sir Ronald Weatherup ruled the relevant amendments to the compensation scheme are compatible with the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

Rejecting a second ground of challenge, he held that the scheme also complied with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Sir Ronald confirmed: "Having answered both questions in the affirmative the application for judicial review is dismissed."

Following the verdict Ms Ryan's solicitor, Kevin Winters, said: "This is an important precedent matter on the rights of previously convicted persons, challenging convictions based on the wrongful suppression of papers and documents from historic crown court cases, followed by their entitlement to apply for compensation.

"It's an evolving issue that will affect many other applicants and cases in various stages now going through the courts.

"We will apply to the Supreme Court and invite a further review on the ruling."

Belfast Telegraph