The Road to Perdition

The collapse of the Robert McCartney murder trial is unlikely to have aroused bafflement amongst those familiar with the case. There will be more bewilderment that due process was ever launched along the certain road to perdition in the first place. From the outset there was the feel that the prosecutions had been initiated to take the sting out of a justice campaign that was proving embarrassing to those powerful political forces, confronted on a daily basis with demands to match their ‘rule of law’ rhetoric with deeds. As Catherine McCartney, sister of the murdered man, told the Sunday Tribune, ‘neither London nor Dublin delivered anything concrete in our search for justice. The British government was useless; the Irish government was polite and useless.’

After three years of legal proceedings the prosecution case evaporated in a puff of smoke. Fittingly so, given that the British crown case amounted to little more than shovelling smoke from the day and hour the former republican prisoners Terry Davison and Jim McCormick first appeared in court. That Davison was being depicted as the knife man raised suspicions about the motives of the prosecution. It ran contrary to what many people understood to be the truth. Few would dispute the evidence eventually offered in court that placed him at the scene of the crime but they would contest the nature of his involvement as outlined by the crown.

Truth is, those famous dogs on the streets of Belfast know who plunged the knife into Robert McCartney. The name of the thug responsible - who later told the IRA in the morally vacant language of the sociopath that he had ‘no reason’ for murdering the Short Strand father of two – was on the lips of everyone talking about the killing from the word go. PSNI intelligence left it in no doubt as to what happened on the night of January 30 just over three years ago. It is understood that more than one British state informer either witnessed or participated in the events on the evening of the murder. There is nothing to suggest that any of these informers ever identified Davison as the knife man.

Nevertheless, what we end up with is a decision to charge Terry Davison with murder on the basis of an allegation that he had wielded the murder weapon. The PSNI, like almost everyone else, knew Davison - whatever role he might have played - was most definitely not the knife man. Despite knowing the identity of the individual who plunged the knife into Robert McCartney, the PSNI for reasons known only to itself chose not to charge him with murder.

The PSNI could not have been anything other than aware of the consequences that this would have on the chances of securing a conviction. Long before the trial judge reached his damning conclusion it was clear that the evidence presented against the accused was so at variance with what took place that short of travesty there was no possibility of a conviction. Why the PSNI, with the information available to it, sought to wrongly identify Davison as the knife man and at the same time allow the person who inflicted the fatal blow to evade the serious charge of murder is something that the police ombudsman’s office may consider worthy of further investigation. While chewing over that, the same office might like to delve a little deeper into the paradox that others, against whom there was as much evidence as was put before the court in relation to the accused, never appeared in front of any judge. The ombudsman might enhance public understanding by demonstrating who was being protected and for what reason.

The murder of Robert McCartney led to a wall of silence. The ‘warm up’ to the killing took place in a bar and was witnessed by anything up to 70 people. Nobody outside the incident came forward with any evidence of substance. Not one Sinn Fein member, of whom there were many, in the bar on the evening gave evidence in the court or made statements to police implicating the attackers. Mate culture may explain some of this. People do not want to inform on their friends. But not all those in the bar were friends of the assailants. Fear must go some way towards explaining their reason for not coming forward. But the fulcrum on which this fear swivels would appear to be a Sinn Fein culture of non-cooperation with the PSNI investigation. There is no doubt that had Sinn Fein members come forward with evidence other witnesses would have felt less fearful in doing likewise. That no Sinn Fein member gave evidence in court suggests that the culture of non co-operation permeated the party. Sinn Fein wanted the murder to go away, rather than the murderers to go down. Like the PSNI, Sinn Fein, fully cognisant of the sequence of events that took place in Magennis’s Bar, were prepared to allow Davison to take his chances on a charge of wielding the murder weapon rather than prompt their own members who witnessed the night’s events to go forward and identify the particular party treasurer who had ‘no reason’ for plunging a knife into his defenceless victim.

The upshot of it all is that this case was never initiated with a view to producing anything other than a short term political expedient. The seriousness of the British crown’s intentions to secure a conviction in the case was called into question from the outset of the prosecution. The crown emphasis apparently was on being seen to be doing something rather than actually doing anything. Getting individuals into court was useful only insofar as it allowed politicians off the hook.

This is the backdrop to a verdict that must have hurt the grieving family of Robert McCartney. Emotionally traumatised they have never traded in their dignified composure in exchange for expedients. They maintain that given their own pursuit of justice a verdict that was reached unjustly would have delivered neither the solace nor the closure that the family needed. This shows a robust regard for a culture of human rights in circumstances where a range of emotional pressures must militate against seeking justice in favour of the gratification offered by revenge.

What in terms of justice has this trial produced? Nothing. The killers of Robert McCartney still stalk the streets in a most unedifying validation of the theses that apes evolved from man.

No comments