Ciaran Nugent launches legal bid to overturn murder convictions
A man who pleaded guilty to a double murder in east Belfast has launched a legal bid to overturn his convictions.
Ciaran Nugent is serving a life sentence for his role in the killing of friends Caron Smyth and Finbar McGrillen in December 2013.
But the 36-year-old is now mounting an appeal based on revisions to the law on joint enterprise.
Nugent's legal team contend that his guilty plea did not include any intention to inflict serious harm on the victims - now a requirement under the new interpretations.
Having foresight of a deadly attack launched by an accomplice is no longer enough to be jointly convicted of the murders, defence lawyers claim.
Ms Smyth, 40, and Mr McGrillen, 42, were beaten to death at the latter's apartment in the Ravenill Court area of the city.
They had sustained multiple injuries including fractured ribs and damaged organs, as well as head, neck and chest wounds consistent with being punched, kicked and stamped on.
In 2015 Shaun Patrick Joseph Hegarty, 37, formerly of Grainne House in the New Lodge area of Belfast, admitted the murders and received a minimum 18-year prison sentence.
He had been in a relationship with Ms Smyth which ended days before the killings.
Nugent, with a previous address at the Simon Community on the city's Falls Road, then also pleaded guilty to the murders on the grounds of joint enterprise - namely that he anticipated a serious assault and assisted in efforts to clean the scene, but that he did not inflict any injuries.
For this lesser role he was ordered to serve at least 14 years behind bars before being considered for release on licence.
Hegarty and Nugent were said to have made an early morning trek across parts of Belfast to reach the apartment.
Police called to the flat following reports of a break-in found the two victims' bodies lying on a duvet in the living room.
Some of those bereaved by the double murder were present in the Court of Appeal as details of Nugent's challenge were set out.
His barristers, Tim Moloney QC and Damien Halleron, argued that the circumstances in which he pleaded guilty have since changed due to a 2016 Supreme Court ruling which reversed previous case law on joint enterprise.
Three senior judges were told foresight of serious harm being caused no longer equates to having an intent to inflict it.
"There are problems with this guilty plea," Mr Moloney contended.
During exchanges Lord Justice Treacy pointed out that Nugent could end up with a longer sentence if he ultimately wins his appeal but is convicted on a retrial.
The court heard, however, that the appellant must first establish a substantial injustice.
Proceedings were then adjourned for Nugent to provide an affidavit about consultations with his previous legal representatives.
As he waited for prison guards to escort him back out of court some of those in the public gallery shouted at him.
Belfast Telegraph Digital