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RUC cover-up over baton round death of mum, court told

A police cover-up surrounding the plastic bullet killing of an innocent woman led to a breakdown in the rule of law, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for the husband of Nora McCabe claimed officers closed ranks and lied under oath to shield two colleagues from facing murder charges.

It was also contended that video footage from the scene in Belfast 28 years ago “comprehensively destroyed” police accounts of what happened.

Jim McCabe is seeking a court order to quash the decision not to charge the sergeant who fired the fatal round or his commanding chief superintendent with either murder or manslaughter. Both men have since died.

They are also challenging a decision not to prosecute any officers for perjury or attempting to pervert the course of justice at the inquest into Mrs McCabe's death.

The 33-year-old mother of three was killed in July 1981 by a baton round fired as she returned from the shops to her home in Linden Street, west Belfast.

Opening the application for judicial review in front of a three-judge panel, Barry Macdonald QC claimed decision makers must have “taken leave of their senses” to find the case did not meet the standard for prosecuting.

The barrister said the baton round was fired “for no good reason” by a police sergeant from a Land Rover. It fractured Mrs McCabe's skull and she died the next day.

“The shot was fired not just in the presence but also under the direction of the officer commanding the entire police division of west Belfast,” Mr Macdonald said.

“The police left the scene, claiming not to have been aware of what had happened, and they subsequently made statements categorically denying any involvement in the incident at Linden Street.”

A direction for no prosecution was given largely because it was not clear who fired the baton round.

Mr Macdonald said police gave evidence under oath at the subsequent inquest before the family disclosed that they had a video tape which, he claimed, demolished the officers credibility.

This footage, from a Canadian News crew, was played in court.

Mr Macdonald said despite its emergence, the Director of Public Prosecutions still declined to bring any charges against officers for murder, manslaughter, perjury or attempting to pervert the course of justice. “What these facts reflect, in our submission, apart from obviously the deep personal tragedy for the family, was a breakdown in the rule of law in the legal sense,” he claimed.

“The police could shoot an innocent citizen with impunity. They could then engage in a systematic cover-up with impunity, safe in the knowledge that by closing ranks and denying everything they could evade prosecution, essentially because they anticipated their evidence would be accepted in preference to any civilian evidence.”

Paul Maguire QC, responding for the DPP, stressed that the coroner who heard witness accounts and viewed the film during the inquest could have reported a view to prosecutors that a criminal offence had been committed.

“That did not occur in this case,” Mr Maguire said.

Belfast Telegraph