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Police payout but no apology to men cleared of soldier's murder

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Michael Toner, Gerry Kelly, Gerry McGowan and Stephen Crumlish with their solicitor Patricia Coyle

Michael Toner, Gerry Kelly, Gerry McGowan and Stephen Crumlish with their solicitor Patricia Coyle

Michael Toner, Gerry Kelly, Gerry McGowan and Stephen Crumlish with their solicitor Patricia Coyle

The PSNI has admitted there were "significant shortcomings" in how four Londonderry men wrongly charged with the murder of a British soldier in 1979 were treated after paying out significant compensation.

The undisclosed sum on behalf of the Chief Constable has been paid to Stephen Crumlish, Gerry McGowan, Gerard Kelly and Michael Toner 20 years after they had a murder charge against them dropped.

All four were accused of killing Lieutenant Stephen Kirby in 1979 after signing confessions when they were all 17.

Two days into a hearing in 1980 all four were released on bail and fled across the border, where they remained until 1998.

In 1997 Lord Chief Justice Robert Carswell ordered all charges against them to be dropped and directed the Director of the Public Prosecution Service not to prosecute the men for breaching their bail.

In 2000 the four began legal action against the Chief Constable for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and battery and malicious prosecution, which resulted in the payouts - made without admission of liability.

Speaking on behalf of all four men, Mr McGowan said: "We would like to thank our families who have endured this painful injustice with us over the last 40 years.

"They have stood by us throughout and we remember our loved ones who are not here today.

"We have endured a number of dark days over the last 40 years. It has taken its toll on our health and our families but we are now looking forward.

"This compensation will not undo the hurt and pain inflicted on us and on our families, however it allows us to look to the future and feel some sense of closure that the state is finally acknowledging their wrong doing."

Mr Crumlish said he would also like an apology from the Chief Constable.

He added: "We were forced to go on the run. It wasn't a choice we made, we were told to go and while we made a life for ourselves - I have a wife and two beautiful sons - this was always hanging over us.

"I can't say I am totally happy now; it is amazing, but there has been no apology and that is something that should come and it is something I would love."

The men's solicitor Patricia Coyle said: "This settlement comes with no acceptance of liability on the part of the police, but my clients refused to accept a confidentiality condition as part of the settlement.

"While some questions remain unanswered, the payment of a significant sum of compensation to each of these gentlemen by the Chief Constable is a final vindication and correction of the public record."

Assistant Chief Constable George Clarke recognised the men's hurt, but stopped short of saying sorry.

He said: "It is important to say that, first and foremost, we acknowledge there were significant shortcomings in the treatment of the men involved in this case and we recognise the distress that this has caused them. This is reflected in the settlement provisions.

"Policing has developed greatly since these incidents took place, as have our policies and procedures for dealing with detained persons.

"Detainees have a range of protections afforded by the Police and Criminal Evidence (NI) Order and Human Rights legislation.

"The PSNI has strict human rights compliant policies and procedures in place to ensure that its custody facilities and all investigative processes comply with the highest possible standards."

The men have been supported in their campaign by the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, which assisted them in lodging a complaint with the Police Ombudsman's Office in 2003.

The Police Ombudsman's Office said: "Our investigation is complete and we are currently working as a matter of priority on finalising our finding for delivery to the complainant."

Belfast Telegraph