Even by the Standards of British Justice in Ireland
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
4 May 2013
Guest Host Martin Galvin (MG) interviews via telephone from Belfast Tony Catney (TC), an Irish Republican prisoner support constituency campaigner, who provides updates on this week's events in the courts in Ireland.
MG: With us on the line we have Tony Catney. Tony Catney, from Belfast, served a sixteen year sentence as an Irish Republican prisoner. He's also a campaigner for a group, Justice for the Craigavon Two , as well as (his) involvements for justice as a campaigner for a number of other cases that are now on-going in the North of Ireland. Welcome, Tony!
TC: Thank you, Martin. It's good to talk to you again.
MG: Tony, what is The Craigavon Two?
TC: The Craigavon Two are two people who were sentenced almost a year ago for the shooting of Constable Carroll in Craigavon.
The two people involved were at the time a seventeen year old, John Paul Wootton, and a forty-one year old and former Sinn Féin Councillor, Brendan McConville.
The circumstances around the case were just so obviously a miscarriage of justice that once the initial trial had taken place and both had been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment family members and campaigners felt that they could not allow such a miscarriage of justice to just carry forward into, for example, the courts of appeals without campaigning around the issue.
I'll go on to explain some of the issues once we get into it more, Martin.
MG: Last week I noticed on Irish television you had Gerry Conlon, who was one of The Guildford Four, the subject of the movie, In the Name of the Father, you had somebody from The Birmingham Six, again another famous miscarriage of justice. They were outside the Court of Appeal with family members of The Craigavon Two. Could you tell us what happened?
TC: Even by the standards of British justice in Ireland, it shocked even Paddy Hill of The Birmingham Six and Gerry Conlon of The Guildford Four.
The case against both men rested entirely on circumstantial evidence. The vast bulk of it coming from someone who was only known as Witness M.
The circumstances of Witness M were that he didn't even come forward to give evidence until eleven months after the incident had taken place.
Then the evidence that he gave was literally torn apart in court due to the fact the person, Witness M, has an eyesight problem - which means that he is shortsighted - and couldn't have seen either of the the two accused at the distance that he claimed he had seen them.
Not only did his eyesight belie the fact that he couldn't have seen them but the description of the attire that, for example that Brendan McConville was wearing, was completely different than that which was retrieved from the car at the scene of the offence.
So on Monday of this week, the first day of the appeal, it was brought out in court that a family member of Witness M had come forward to give evidence stating that what Witness M had said about his movements on the night were a tissue of lies.
That as a family member he had the reputation of being unable to tell the truth. They point that his family nickname was Walter Mitty and that he kept making things up.
This witness was then visited by the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) who forced their way into his house through his door. Then verbally intimidated and threatened him, telling him that if he carried on and gave evidence to state that his family member was shortsighted and couldn't have been where he said he was on the night, that they would discredit him in court.
Then twenty-four hours later they went back and arrested this new witness and held him for forty-eight hours, all of the time telling him that if he went to court he would be discredited.
So in this instance, not only was the state not prepared to allow evidence to go to court but they actively, actively went out of their way to subvert the course of justice to the extent that the defence counsel have now asked that the matter needs to be investigated by someone other than the RUC.
As the result of that the three trial judges had no option but to adjourn the trial which means that the appeal cannot take place until at least October.
By October the two men involved will have spent four and a half years in prison which is the equivalent of a nine year sentence. And we are quite confident that on the basis of the evidence that they will be acquitted. So they will have done a nine year sentence on nothing other than the word of a shortsighted eyewitness.
MG: Tony, we want to ask you about a couple of other cases – there's been a number of other important legal developments this week and we just want to go through those with you.
First of all there's been some further action in the case of Martin Corey and Marian Price. Could you tell us about that?
TC: Martin and Marian are both former life sentence prisoners.
MG: Tony, now you know a little bit about life sentence licences, don't you?
TC: Yes, I do indeed, Martin, unfortunately.
MG: What does a licence mean?
TC: What it means is the terms of your licence are: that for the rest of your days the Secretary of State can decide on what will be the terms of your imprisonment.
At this moment in time the terms of my imprisonment are sitting here with the ability to make this phone call.
But if the Secretary of State decided tomorrow that she wanted to change those conditions then she could do that at the stroke of a pen. Which means that I could be put back into a prison, taken over to England and put in a prison in England, almost anything that falls under her jurisdiction she could do that because I'm a life sentence prisoner.
MG: Would they have to reveal any evidence that they had against you? The reasons for bringing you back to prison? What would be the procedure for you to challenge that?
TC: There is no procedure to challenge it first of all. And secondly there is no judicial process whatsoever.
The entire process is executive. The Secretary of State doesn't have to answer to the Lord Chief Justice, to the Attorney General - to anyone.
The Secretary of State can just make that decision arbitrarily. There is then no judicial process through which you can challenge it.
All of the evidence that is given against you is given in secret.
You are allowed a legal representative to attend the hearing where this secret information will be given. However, the legal representative is not a legal representative of your choosing. The state chooses who the legal representative is. And then the legal representative is prohibited from informing you or anyone else what the reasons for your re-incarceration are.
In other words, a closed shop.
MG: I don't understand. Suppose you were accused of, instead of being on the radio right now, calling from your home. Let's say they accuse you of being at an IRA meeting right at this time in Dublin.
How would you ... obviously if that was made known to you you could bring in a broadcast of this radio, I could show the phone records to show that you were actually at home at this time. How would you be able to find that out? And how would you be able...
You'd have indisputable proof that you were innocent. How would you be able to find that out and how would you be able to challenge it?
TC: You wouldn't. It would be completely impossible.
Because you would never be told that that's the reason why your licence had been revoked in the first place.
In other words, it's a completely secretive process that is non-judicial. It is completely executive. In other words, Martin Corey has now been in prison for over three years and to this moment he has no idea what he is in prison for or what any possible charges ... well ... no charges have ever been leveled against him.
So technically he is, for the past three years and a month, has been a political hostage held at the whim of the Secretary of State by the British state.
MG: Martin Corey went to challenge this in Supreme Court. Could you tell us what happened this week in that attempt to give a legal challenge to the way in which he has been imprisoned?
TC: Unfortunately he has lost that challenge in that the secret procedure has been upheld.
It is a clear example where the judicial process has absolutely no writ over the executive process.
And certainly in my opinion, Martin, the only thing that will make any difference with both Marian and Martin is feet on streets. People going out and protesting and saying: No! Not in our name.
This is a complete travesty of justice and it needs to be ended now.
MG: Marian Price has been before the Parole Commissioners, there has been that type of campaign in the United States. In fact, Sandy Boyer, who is on this radio programme, is one of the key figures in the campaign in the United States, as well as campaigning ... you've been involved in it and others across Ireland.
When is she supposed to hear the result of the latest parole re-evaluation?
TC: She should get some word next week, within the next five or six days, Martin.
And obviously everybody is hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
Marian's case I suppose is even more complicated than Martin's in that Marian has been held for the entire period in isolation because she was then the only female Republican prisoner and did not associate with the ordinary prisoners on the wing. And she was held in isolation. As a result of that both her physical and her psychological well being suffered.
So Marian has not only has lost her freedom but is also in fairly urgent need of the type of respite that you will only get when you're with your own family and in your own home. It is a clear case of victimisation by the British state. And how anyone can do that and claim they have the right to call themselves a state living in democracy - it just defies belief.
MG: Lastly, we want to ask you, there was a development in the case of Brian Shivers yesterday. Brian was one of the two people who was originally charged with the killings of British troopers at Massereene. Colin Duffy was previously acquitted. Brian Shivers was initially convicted, served time in prison and then was put on re-trial. Can you tell us what happened with that case?
TC: Yes, that was on Friday; just yesterday of this week, Martin.
The week began with a roar with The Craigavon Two and then ended with a bang with Brian Shivers.
And what happened there is Brian Shivers was sentences purely on forensic evidence. The forensic evidence were on three matches.
And it was shown in the course of the appeal and then the re-trial, because Brian had to go through three legal processes, that not only was the initial forensic examination wrong but that it is quite likely that the initial forensic scientist lied and lied under oath about the DNA that was found at the car that allegedly was used in the shooting at Masseerene.
The extent of that was, and Brian gave this in his defence, that the matches that were found at the scene could have been from any one of a number of people and that there should be multiple samples of DNA on the matches. This wasn't the evidence that was given by the state and the prosecution at the initial trial.
However, at the re-trial and under close scrutiny from the defence barrister, it came out that in fact what Brian had been saying was the fact.
There were multiple traces of DNA on the matches which showed that it could not be tied to Brian Shivers. And as a result of that the judge threw the entire case out.
Now Brian is also an MS sufferer who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. And they put Brian through all the rigours of imprisonment, of strip searching, of controlled movement, they held back his medication from him – they've done everything they could to make his life as hard as it possibly was only to have been now have found out to have been the perpetrators of a crime as opposed to the people who are upholding law and order.
And what will happen over it? Absolutely nothing!
That's the sort of two-tiered system that we now have to live under in the North of Ireland.
MG: And Tony, the last thing we want to mention: there was an agreement in August of 2010 to end the strip searching practice – you've mentioned it a couple of times - what is the current status of strip searching? Will that be ended at any time soon on Republican political prisoners in Maghaberry?
TC: It doesn't look like it will be ended any time soon, Martin.
What I will say first of all is the morale among the prisoners is very, very high at the moment. They know that they have the moral high ground on this issue because the agreement that was broken in 2010 was vouchsafed by independents rather than just the prison administration.
And to that extent they know that it is clear who it is that are dragging their feet in terms of the implementation of the agreement. The people who are dragging their feet are the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and the Executive up at Stormont - primarily David Ford as the Minister of Justice - but the entire Executive up in Stormont has the ability to end what has now become the completely discredited and archaic practice of strip searching and controlled movement.
I mean, controlled movement within a secure block is completely unnecessary as is strip searching between two secure units. I mean, if nothing else comes in why would you want to be strip searching somebody?
So will it end any time soon?
There doesn't seem to be a break coming any time soon. But the prisoners are adamant that they will maintain their position until they have the implementation of the 2010 agreement.
MG: Tony, why do you think the British prison officials at Maghaberry are strip searching and using this type of brutality against Republican prisoners?
TC: As a form of control. Pure and simple - as a form of control.
We have now the ubiquitous situation - right there at the North of Ireland – where after 2000 and the introduction of the RIPA Act and the use of covert human (intelligence) sources (CHIS) we have a parallel system of policing and imprisonment.
Where the people who look after Republicans are not answerable the judiciary, the Executive or anybody else here. They're answerable only to the NIO and by extension, the Secretary of State.
All other offences are dealt with in a completely different fashion.
But because Republicans are subject to this more severe, more harsh parallel prison and policing regime then Republicans will always be in the position where the state will try to control everything that they do and then use that control to try and break or criminalise the Republicans.
MG: Alright Tony, I want to thank you for bringing us up to date on all of these legal matters that are still forms of injustice within the North of Ireland.
TC: It's always a pleasure to speak to you soon, Martin, and I look forward to speaking to you again soon with hopefully some more good news.
MG: Hopefully it will be good news about Marian Price in the immediate future.
TC: Yeah, yeah, yeah ... that would be great.
MG: Thank you, Tony.