Guns conviction may be quashed

LURGAN man Martin McCauley, one of the Columbia Three, may have an IRA weapons conviction dating back 30 years overturned in his absence.

It has transpired that vital evidence was not seen by the original trial.

McCauley (51) can be arrested if he comes back to Northern Ireland on an outstanding international arrest warrant which would see him extradited to South America to serve a 17 year prison sentence.

He was arrested in Columbia with two others, Niall Connolly and James Monaghan in 2001 and accused of training guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (Farc).

In 1982 McCauley was shot and seriously wounded by an undercover RUC team in a farm shed near Lurgan.

His friend Michael Tighe (17) was killed by officers who had staked out the shed.

McCauley received a two year jail term which was suspended for three years for possession of three rifles discovered in the shed.

The killing was one of six so-called shoot-to-kill cases investigated by John Stalker, a former assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police.

Mr Stalker was removed from the inquiry in disputed circumstances but later revealed in memoirs that, unknown to the RUC men involved, the entire incident had been secretly recorded.

“An electronic bug, installed by MI5, had been operating, concealed in the rafters, throughout the entire police assault on the barn,” Mr Stalker said.

“No one in the security services or police could ever have possibly imagined that its use was to become known to the world, when one day, by accident, it eavesdropped on death.

“This tape has become a rope in a bitter tug-of-war between those who believe the method of intelligence gathering should be protected at all costs.”

The secret recording was never made available to the defence or shown to the judge in McCauley’s original trial.

Police who gave evidence confirmed they were encouraged to make false statements to protect a source.

They admitted not entering the barn after seeing a gunman as claimed but had instead been directed there by colleagues in Special Branch.

In 2005 McCauley made an application to the Criminal Case Review Commission, set up to examine miscarriages of justice.

It has not referred the case to the appeal court, referring to ‘information obtained by the commission that was not known by the trial judge that, in the commission’s view, raises a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will now quash the conviction’.

Mr McCauley’s solicitor, Fearghal Sheils of Madden and Finucane, welcomed the decision.

“It is clear that the entire events which took place in the hayshed were monitored by the RUC,” he said.

“The existence of the tape and the vital evidence it contained was concealed from the defence and the judge who heard Mr McCauley’s trial.

“Given the conflicting accounts of the police on the one hand and the accused on the other of the events in the hayshed, it is difficult to imagine a more crucial piece of evidence.”