Belfast Telegraph

Public should know truth on IRA state agent murders, court told

By Alan Erwin

The public has a right to know if one state agent was allowed to murder another in order to advance within the IRA, a court heard today.

Lawyers for a husband and wife seeking full reasons why prosecuting authorities now accept their convictions for offences linked to the interrogation and killing of a police informer should be quashed claimed non-disclosure could lead to further wrongdoing.

Senior judges were also told PSNI and Police Ombudsman investigations into RUC and military behaviour in the case of James Martin and Veronica Ryan are now underway.

The west Belfast couple were both convicted of the false imprisonment of Joe Fenton, a Special Branch agent shot dead after being lured to a house in the city in February 1989.

Mr Martin, who was also found guilty of making property available for terrorism, was later sentenced to four years imprisonment.

His wife, formerly known as Veronica Martin, was jailed for six months.

Their case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which examines potential miscarriages of justice.

Last year it emerged that Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory believes the guilty verdicts should be quashed.

But a Public Interest Immunity certificate has been obtained to protect a confidential dossier containing relevant sensitive material.

Lawyers for the couple are now seeking a full and open judgement when judges decide whether to overturn their convictions.

Sean Devine, counsel for Mr Martin, argued that the public deserved to know about secretive behaviour.

He told the court there was one man at the centre of the case with the initials FS.

"There could be landmines exploding silently around me as I make these submissions because I'm in the dark about what the basis is for the proposed overturning of these convictions," he said.

"If the speculation is correct and it's the case that one agent of the state was allowed to execute another agent of the state to enhance his position with a paramilitary organisation so he could provide a higher grade of intelligence that needs to be stated."

Referring to the alleged mishandling of agents, he argued that higher standards are expected from the authorities.

"If it's the case that there was some profoundly embarrassing behaviour, and there may been be widespread repercussions, it's better to lance the boil rather than to leave communities and individuals speculating about what went wrong," he claimed.

"There's been the destruction of lives and that can't be remedied by more secretive behaviour on the part of other public authorities.

"Unless the court does reveal what went wrong then those that have perpetrated this type of behaviour and those that are minded to do so in the future will continue to do so."

Counsel for Ms Ryan, Richard Greene, said it could be her only chance to get answers to why she was jailed.

However, Gerald Simpson QC, for the prosecution service, contended that the case for delivering a closed judgment was "overwhelming".

He rejected claims that such a verdict would endorse any wrongdoing.

By simply quashing the convictions the court would be following the Director in condemning such behaviour.

He confirmed that the case has been referred to the PSNI, adding: "There is now an investigation into these events."
Pressed by the judges on the priority it has been given, Mr Simpson told him meeting with the Police Ombudsman took place last week in an attempt to make progress.

During their exchanges Lord Justice Coghlin also stated: "This court is charged with a public duty to deliver open justice.

"There's certainly, in my view, a viable argument that by its inability to do that there is a risk of harm being done not only to an individual but also to the public duty of the court itself."

Following submissions the three-judge panel reserved their decision on the application.

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