Belfast Telegraph

Judge: Evidence too unsafe to convict man accused over David Black killing

By Michael Donnelly

A judge has thrown out the case of a Co Tyrone convicted terrorist who had been accused of involvement in the murder of prison officer David Black.

Prosecutors in the case of Damien Joseph McLaughlin have been given until tomorrow to decide whether to challenge the decision of Mr Justice Colton.

Yesterday, the judge ruled that it would be both unsafe and unreliable to convict the 41-year-old who has always denied any involvement in the M1 drive-by shooting of 54-year-old father-of-two Mr Black on November 1, 2012.

The case against McLaughlin, from Kilmascally Road near Ardboe, rested solely on the evidence of Co Leitrim man Stephen Brady, who was interviewed by specialist Garda officers from Dublin in the wake of the "horrific shooting".

During the interviews, which the judge described as "oppressive, aggressive, hectoring and bullying", Mr Brady allegedly identified McLaughlin as the man who moved a Toyota Camry car later used by the gunmen in the ambush.

But yesterday, Mr Justice Colton said that having viewed the video-taped interviews, "he could not believe that it was contemplated that the interviews with Brady would be relied upon in any criminal prosecution".

Earlier he said "the court was not impressed with the conduct and manner of these interviews".

While he repeatedly and continually complained about their aggressive nature, he also chose to extensively quote from the interviews, using the same profanities as the Garda.

Mr Justice Colton said the court was "not naive" about the nature of such interviews, "not meant to be friendly conversations over a cup of tea", and that the use of "profane and oppressive language, however unnecessary or unjustified, does not in itself preclude" them as evidence.

However, the Belfast Crown Court judge said that even one of the Garda detectives involved "was correct when he accepted he did not ever envisage that the contents of the interviews would be scrutinised in a court of law and that he understood why a court would have concerns about the contents of the interviews".

Mr Justice Colton said he had formed the impression "the true purpose of the interviews was to seek information from Brady other than obtain evidence for the purposes of a criminal prosecution".

The judge said he was "not satisfied it would be in the interests of justice" to admit Brady's hearsay evidence due to the "particular circumstances in which it was obtained".

He went further in declaring that not only should it not be admitted but also "that a trial depending on it should not be allowed to proceed because any conviction based on that evidence would be unsafe".

He added that given the "high and obvious risk of unreliability" of the statements, in his view it would be "unfair and unsafe for the defendant to be convicted on the basis of such evidence in circumstances where he is not in a position to challenge or test the accuser".

Mr Justice Colton said the evidence provided in Brady's statements was "so unconvincing that considering its importance to the case against the defendant I would acquit the defendant on the grounds that his conviction for the offences would be unsafe".

Brady's interviews could not have been used in a criminal prosecution against himself, said the judge, who added: "It seems to me inconceivable that they would be admitted against the defendant McLaughlin."

Earlier, the judge said Brady's was "the sole and decisive evidence in the case" and there "is no other evidence" purporting to link the defendant to the car used in the murder of Mr Black.

He added that the prosecution had also failed to take all possible steps to ensure Brady's attendance in court. They could have applied to the High Court in Dublin for him to give evidence there, or arranged for a live link to enable him to give evidence outside the Republic.

At the end of the ruling, the prosecuting QC said he would ask for time to consider whether to apply to the court directly, or to the Court of Appeal, to challenge its findings. It was agreed the parties would return to court tomorrow.

Belfast Telegraph

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