Tried And Acquitted

The Republican activist Colin Duffy was acquitted on Friday of last week of involvement in the attack at Massereene Co Antrim which resulted in two members of the British Army losing their lives.  His co-accused Brian Shivers was convicted of killing both soldiers and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

I was surprised by the verdict. I thought the trial would have been managed in such a way as to meet with the British police’s imperative of convicting Duffy. If one of the two was likely to be acquitted I felt it would be Shivers.

This has nothing to do with the evidence against either man. I never considered this trial as something that was going to be guided by the strict laws of evidence but one that would be determined by political calculations and British security needs. The nature of the DNA evidence seemed particularly tenuous and it took a considerable leap of faith, coupled with an abandonment of reason, by the trial judge to render the witness testimony of the Crown’s chief DNA ‘expert’ as admissible evidence.

Even with that, the court, which denied either man trial by jury, still failed to persuade itself that Colin Duffy was guilty. Or at least it opted to acquit him because the loss of judicial credibility that might accrue from a conviction on the basis of seriously weak evidence was not worth the risk.

Duffy in a post trial press conference claimed that the DNA evidence against him was planted. The PSNI has denied this but something Mandy Rice Davis once said comes to mind.  What makes the Duffy allegation interesting is not that it is outrageous but that it is eminently believable. The PSNI in this respect would only be carrying on in the same culture that shaped the attitudes of the Northern police when it was called the RUC. The PSNI in many circumstances is pursuing the very agenda that was in play from RUC days. It has sought to subvert autonomous inquiry whether academic or journalistic; it has employed draconian detention policies – all too evident in the length of time Duffy was held in custody prior to being charged; it has continued to engage in widespread cover up of the role of the British state in the Northern conflict while expressing a willingness to uncover the roles of other parties. As far as the PSNI is concerned, Marcellus from Shakespeare’s Hamlet adequately and concisely provided language that goes to the heart of matters: ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’

The verdict, not surprisingly is being used to whip up hatred by the usual suspects. Willie McCrea asked in the British House of Commons: ‘what assurance can the secretary of state give my constituents that they are going to be safe from brutal terrorists like Colin Duffy and not be another statistic in a long line of innocent victims?’ Assurances the singing bigot was never much concerned about when he was platform-sharing with mass LVF killer Billy Wright

Of concern in the Massereene case is that the brouhaha created in some circles by the release of Duffy has helped mask the conviction of Brian Chivers. The Unionists and the PSNI seem to be spinning the trial outcome as a defeat. To hell with ‘the rule of law’ ( a middle class mantra most of the time anyway) and just jail Duffy.  What they feel they lost in the court they are determined to seize back in the wider court of public opinion. It resonates of the reactionary attitudes on display in the wake of the Birmingham Six convictions. That Duffy got out rather than Chivers went in seems to be what resonates in the discourse. This prevents scrutiny homing in on the possibility that the Chivers conviction might be unsafe. Because he is terminally ill there might be a view in officialdom that his life will expire before a head of steam gathers regarding a possible miscarriage of justice.

Colin Duffy is now a free man but his freedom will be heavily circumscribed by the forces of the British state smarting from its failure to bang him up for thirty years. In a society that hungers for revenge more than justice, it is unlikely that we have heard the last word on Colin Duffy.


  1. Totally agree with you here again Anthony, I would venture to say Colins acquittal was more for the optics than any real justice, the verdict may be a political ploy to the wider nationalist population saying look we have acquitted a man who has been charged on other occasions of murder,now in the old norn pre "peace process" days this just would not have happened, the state got their pound of flesh from Colin three years worth,similarly with Marion,and as you rightly say a cara thugs and bigots like Mc Crea can prance around besuited warmongers getting others to carry out their dirty work and crying foul if the state dares intervene on their own like Mount Vernon uvf /sb unit.Colin Duffy has spent around eight years in gaol and I dont think he has ever been convicted of any so called crime, mind you has anyone who has ever been convicted in a diplock court.this state was rotten at its conception and the stench will linger untill its buried once and for all.

  2. Mackers,
    Brilliant article and absolutely on the money.
    I think they stuffed up with the latex glove and the precarious DNA.
    It was a great result though, even if it was dictated more by gallery playing than by justice.
    Heard that clown McCrea, calling for guarantees that his constituents can still sleep soundly in there beds.
    The real pity is the fact, that a vile creature such as him still sleeps soundly in his.

  3. Colin has suffered during the War.His sister was one of the 3 murdered by Wright's gang in the mobile shop.He has also escaped murder bids on himself.The thing that made me think was Brian Sivers walking into the court while being out on bail if had anything to do with the case.Totally agree with Marty the destruction of this state is the only aim.

  4. On the ball Anthony, great piece. McCrea has form at using parliamentary privilege to spout his venom, the late John Davey was named by the bigot prior to his assassination. We certainly haven't heard the last of Colin and i hope he remains safe.

    Though it was great to see Colin walk I feel Brian's conviction has been overlooked based as it is on the spurious evidence. As the man may not have long to live we could well be in for another Brendan Lillis scenario in the hole that is Maghaberry.

  5. This case struck a cord with me as I became involved in an argument over a not dissimilar case which also involved troublesome DNA evidence.

    It was the recent case at the Bailey when two men were convicted of killing Steven Lawrence. The evidence against them was mainly circumstantial, I e they were proven racist bigots. Plus a tiny drop of blood which the labs claimed matched that of one of the defendants.

    The prosecution openly admitted this had not been found first time around, and the piece of the man's clothing it was found on had been poorly stored in a police station room for years, and could have become contaminated, as it was stored alongside other exhibits which had not belonged to the defendant.

    It seems to me this evidence was either planted, or it became contaminated. I feel the former is most likely as it was such a tiny drop of blood, minuscule in fact.

    When I said, with this evidence, the man should not be convicted and even if he were he should get off on appeal. All hell broke loose, including from friends of mine, you should not say this, the man is an arsehole, [probably true] and he was mixed up with the teenage gang who murdered Steven. One said "the Lawrence's deserve better from you."

    Should I have kept quiet, kept my thoughts to myself, perhaps, but I think not, for it is up to the law to prove beyond doubt if a defendant is guilty, when we allow the bar to be set below this, we end up with people, innocent and guilty, being fitted up, not as an exception but as a rule.

    Myself I believe, like finger prints today, DNA evidence will become increasingly found to be wanting. I can remember a time when people refused to believe finger prints could be planted, not any more. The quicker we wake up to DNA being planted the better.

    As to Colin he had a result, although having said that he might be wise to move to more sunnier climes.

  6. Good article, Mackers. Colin Duffy was acquitted by a British diplock court and those who extol the merits of British justice system are jumping mad over the decision. What a bunch of hypocrites.

    Facebook and slugger o'toole carried countless death threats against Duffy forcing the administrators to close down the forums. It will be interesting to see just how many of these posters are charged over their comments. I know one thing for certain; were Colin Duffy to post a threat on the Internet his feet wouldn't touch the ground.

    The demonisation of this man is frightening to read. And the mainstream press has played its part also in this vicious campaign. It seems Mr Duffy is fair game despite having been cleared of all charges. Legal niceties such as this are easily ignored by the lynch mob who seek their own godly revenge on one of the devil's spawn.

    I fear your prediction, "that we have not heard the last word on Colin Duffy", could have a chilling outcome.

  7. Alec a cara do you think if Colin was thrown to the wolves ,so to speak that the blood lust that those who are issuing these threats would be verdict is definitely not their old war cry "yaba daba do any taig will do" is as prevalent among that section of the population today as it was when Paisley and his ilk stirred them up pre 1969 and in the generations before them..I remember the Sun newsrag headlines at the time of the Birmingham bombings HANG THE BASTARDS..its the british way Alec if not by hanging then we.ll just shoot them as per Bloody many murderers are in the house of commons and lords,or maybe an easier way of calculating the answer is to count the innocent hmmm wouldnt take to long..

  8. Talking of justice,todays Irish News carrys a four page article on the murder of Mary Mc Glinchey twenty five years ago in Dundalk,this horrific murder was carried out in front of her two small boys,this high profile woman republican would most certainly have been under constant garda and brit int surveillance ,yet no one was or has ever been arrested or charged,and indeed as the article says the Garda are in contravention of article two ot the European Convention on Human Rights,mind you when you look at how the Dublin Monaghan bombings were investigated you would hardly be suprised..Then on a completly lighter note on page nine we have that clown Martyboy Mc Guinness calling for a referendum on a united Ireland by 2016,, what a wally classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing I mean here, Gerry qsf president for life has already stated that Ireland WILL be reunited by 2016....

  9. Marty, the cheerleaders of reactionary Unionism/Loyalism will never be satisfied. After Colin Duffy they would simply find another target for their venomous hatred. Willie McCrea can pontificate until he is blue in the face but it does not absolve him, and his ilk, of his share of the blame for the years of bitter conflict. His self righteous attitude will not save him from the judgement of history.

    And as for the loyalists rednecks who are calling for Duffy's head on a platter the war cry "any taig will do" can still be heard loud and clear. No doubt some LVF leftover would love to make a name for himself as 'the man who shot Liberty Valence'.

  10. Organised Rage,
    The cross contamination theory in the Stephen Lawrence case was totally disproved.
    The most recent evidence was credited to scientific advance not to contamination this theory was hotly and sucessfully contested.
    Their trial did not hinge on a disappearing and a reappearing latex tip, nor did it hinge on low grade and precarious DNA.

  11. So Marty McFly is calling for a six county referendum? Lol, sure they've already accepted the unionist veto may as well confirm it as well. Playing to the drones I think or dancing to the tune of his handlers, who would be relishing the outcome.

    I understand under the Got F All terms a referendum can only be called by the brits and thereafter every seven years until they get the result they want? Republicans should play no part in this sectarian head count the only poll that matters is a 32 county one. 

    Dangerous game to be playing, when the Australian republic referendum was defeated it has all but silenced calls for a redraw and any time it's mentioned now it's opponents call it a waste of time, more important things like the economy etc. Calling for an internal 6 county poll which is sure to be defeated is really going to strengthen the republican cause!?! More like give the unionists are warm fuzzy glow!!!

  12. Organized Rage,
    Your whole anaylsis in relation to the Stephen Lawrence convictions and the abuse of evidence is wrong.
    How you arrived at the theory, that Dobson and Norris were eventually found guily on circumstantial evidence is untrue.
    Both were linked to Stephen's killing by new evidence which emerged as far back as four years ago. The cross-contamination theory came from the defence and elements within the police.
    It was totally disproved. Particles of the victims blood were found on Hobbs coat and a hair belonging to the victim was found on Norris's jeans due to DNA advances nothing to do with evidence planting. Your explanation was deemed in court not to be plausible, had it been they would have walked again.
    Should you have kept quiet? It might have been a good idea.

  13. Alec,

    it seems there is indeed nothing new under the sun. Same old, same old. The Britishj state pitches its anti-republican strategy in accordance with its needs. What it needed against the PIRA it utilised and what it needs against today's IRAs it utilises. The Provos being coopted into a six county internal settlement is an endorsement of the British police but it doesn't mean the police force has changed its essence. It is what it always was. Besides srrving vital policing functions it also has a very political drive against republicanism.

    That said, the situation could be much improved were republicans to desist from trying to kill cops.

  14. Mick/Nuala,

    I am not sure where I stand on this. My natural inclination is to be suspicious of the cops whether it be in the Lawrence case or Duffy. I wondered about the Lawrence verdict when it happened. I have long held the view that the two of them are as guilty as sin. But I remain suspicious of these types of convictions. I think it heralds the onset of a litany of miscarriages of justice. It seems too open to abuse. Cross contamination is so easily practiced.

    I also think Mick was right to say what he thought whether we agree with him or not. I have no doubt that anybody raising questions about the conviction of Brian Shivers will be told to be quiet, that they are insulting the memory and the families of the Massereene dead. Creating an uncomfortable environment for those who speak out only aids those who wish to censor. Once the censor prevails we have access to no knowledge.

  15. Mackers,
    Mick actually asked the question should he have kept quiet?
    What I said is not the same as saying someone cannot give an opinion. It was merely a tongue in cheek quip it was not meant to be offensive and it was certainly not censoring a person's opinion.
    I had no idea Mick wrote the post if I had I would just have assumed he was having an off day as I would imagine someone as intelligent as him would not link these cases let alone remotely assume Hobbs and Norris were set up.

  16. Nuala,

    even were they guilty (I think they are) it remains important that a threshold of evidence is maintained. That they are racists doesn't mean that they should be put down on lesser evidence. Had that standard of evidence been applied in the Duffy case I think there would be many legitimate questions asked.

  17. Mackers,
    There are absolutely no similarities between these two cases.
    The killers of Stephen Lawrence were eventually convicted because new evidence caused the court of appeal to do a complete u-turn.
    Compelling new evidence which apparently had been unearthed in private scientific lab was the reason a new trial went ahead.
    This 'compelling' new DNA evidence was based on the discovery of evidence that previous methods failed to pick up.
    DNA experts were able to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that, these tiny specs of blood were on Hobbs clothes since the night of the murder and did not sudddenly appear after years of lying in a police lab.
    Two days after Stephen Lawrence was brutally murdered the two who were found guilty were in the frame.
    Had the cops wanted to cross-contaminate why wait 18 years.
    The metropolitan police were not being forced to come up with evidence they were actually being forced to come up with the truth.

  18. Nuala,

    if the same evidence was presented in the Duffy/Shivers case would you be satisfied that it justified a verdict of guilty? I would not.

    I think DNA is subject to manipulation and cross contamination. I don't think these guys are innocent of killing Stephen Lawrence. But I am uncomfortable with the evidence used to convict. I think in time the focus of this case could shift to one of a miscarriage of justice.

    The degree of adverse publicity in the case very much worked against the duo. We have long assumed their guilt. While having no sympathy for them I am not prepared to assume that the police are playing with a straight bat.

  19. Mackers,
    I would just like to speak about the Stephen Lawrence trial as I think there is a world of difference between the defendants in these seperate trials and a world of different in the motives and methodologies which resulted in them standing trial.
    I understand that the cross-contamination theory was over-ruled because the scientific experts had proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the new microscopic traces of blood could not have been transferred, dried or soaked but had went on the jacket as fresh spattered blood.
    I followed this trial in its entirity and I'm sure I would not remember this so vividly unless I had read it or heard it.

  20. Nuala,

    no doubt there is a world of difference between the people on trial in either case. But that is a separate issue from the evidence. I know if that evidence had been presented in the Duffy/Shivers trial I would feel the same way. I can't switch track because it was presented to secure a conviction against racists.

    Juries always claim to be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt when they decide to convict. But these things have been overturned.

    These guys killed Stephen lawrence and for that reason few will have sympathy for them. But it is better to let the guilty go free rather than establish precedents that will convict the innocent.

    I think Michael Mansfield would see this as a proper verdict yet i am drawn back to his own warning of some years ago:

    "Forensic science is not immutable. They're not written in tablets of stone, and the biggest mistake that anyone can make—public, expert or anyone else alike—is to believe that forensic science is somehow beyond reproach: it is not! The biggest miscarriages of justice in the United Kingdom, many of them emanate from cases in which forensic science has been shown to be wrong. And the moment a forensic scientist or anyone else says: 'I am sure this marries up with that' I get worried."

  21. Nuala,

    having said all that, it remains indisputable that advances in science have allowed for the possibility of forensic discovery many years down the line. And it would be foolish to ignore new evidence. I just think there has to be a threshold that protects the innocent.

  22. delighted cilin got out. there's a wee gang in lurgan police station who are UVF to the hilt. Lindsey Robb case and slander of and murder of Rosemary Nelson just the more recent examples of their work.

    unfortunately they weren't all on the chinook for the 'all-inclusive' to scotland. PSNI is the same force with the same agenda. They just have SF support now.

    DELIGHTED for Mandy Duffy but i do hope collie drops the 'ned kelly' tribute routine.

  23. Mackers,
    You are so much better at this than me. Anyway, I tried to hold my own and I seriously meant no offence to Mick.
    I think an appeal has been lodged by the two who murdered Stephen Lawrence. I suppose all we can hope for is the new DNA evidence holds up.

  24. Not at all Nuala. I just have an opinion on it. I thought the Lawrence case disgraceful. I think MacPherson was right about instituionalised racism. And I have no doubt that those two killed him. I just have a worry about other issues and strengthening the powers of the cops. It invariably leads to an abuse of process. And with less money going to legal aid the moost vulnerable will be legally disadvantaged