Two former RUC detectives were today formally cleared of intending to pervert the course of justice during an investigation into the murder of a British soldier in Derry in 1979.
John McGahan (71) and 65-year old Philip Noel Thompson each faced a single charge of doing an act with intent to pervert the course of justice and were due to stand trial this year. Both men denied the charge levelled against them.
Mr McGahan was charged with recording a written statement after caution from Gerald Kieran McGowan which was not his independent account of his involvement in the murder of Steven Andrew Kirby on a date between February 27, 1979 and March 2, 1979.
Mr Thompson was charged with recording a written statement after caution from Gerald Kieran McGowan which was not his independent account of his involvement in the shooting of Noel Ronald Smith on a date between February 27, 1979 and March 2, 1979.
During a brief hearing at Belfast Crown Court, the two ex-RUC men appeared in the dock whilst a jury was sworn in. After the jury - consisting of ten women and two men - was sworn, Crown prosecutor David McDowell QC told the court: “The prosecution’s intention is to offer no evidence in respect of each count ... and I formally do so.”
This prompted defence barrister Greg Berry QC, who was acting on behalf of both Mr McGahan and Mr Thompson, to ask Mr Justice Weir to “direct the jury accordingly.”
Addressing the jury, the Judge said that, as the Crown was offering no evidence against the former policemen, he was directing the foreperson to return a ‘not guilty’ verdict on behalf of both men. Mr Justice Weir then asked if there was “any reason” why the pair couldn’t be released. When no reason was given, the Judge told the pair “you are free to go.”
Although no details of the charges against the former police officers were revealed in court, it is understood that they related to an RUC investigation into the murder of Royal Welsh Fusiliers officer Steven Kirby, who was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in the Abercorn Road area of Derry in February 1979.
Four local teenagers were subsequently charged with his murder, including Gerry McGowan, who was named on the bill of indictment.
Outside the Laganside Court complex, a group of protestors stood with a banner brandishing the words ‘Justice Delayed, Justice Denied.’ As he was leaving the court, Mr McGahan confronted them.
One of the protestors handed the media a letter bearing today’s date which was addressed to Barra McGrory, Director of the Public Prosecution Service.
The letter - written on behalf of Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner, Gerry Kelly and Stephen Crumlish - stated they have spent their lives “fighting this miscarriage of justice” which destroyed their lives. All four were acquitted of the soldier’s murder in 1998.
Stating that they, the ‘Derry Four’, are requesting answers from the PPS, the letter also says: “We believe that the DPP in 1979 and the PPS today have failed in their duty of care towards us, as victims of a miscarriage of justice... Justice delayed is justice denied. We have endured 37 years of injustice and our fight continues.”