A Derry man given a suspended jail sentence for being the masked lead flag bearer in a republican parade was never properly identified, the Court of Appeal heard yesterday.
Lawyers for Patrick John McDaid argued that experts in facial mapping and image comparison techniques were not certain he had been the man pictured in a balaclava.
McDaid, (43), is seeking to overturn his conviction for managing a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation.
In May he was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for three years, after a judge decided he was ‘Man X’ carrying an Irish tricolour at the front of the march.
A seven-strong, masked colour party had headed a parade close to republican graves in the City Cemetery, Derry, on Easter Sunday 2011.
The commemoration, organised by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, involved a speech being made on behalf of the Real IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann (OnH).
As well as the photographs and facial mapping evidence, the judge in the non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court heard how police later seized a document which purported to be minutes of a meeting to organise the march.
It included the reference: “Colour party - McDaid to get people sorted”.
But judges in the Court of Appeal were told on Wednesday that nothing more than a surname was found.
Kieran Mallon QC, for McDaid, also challenged the strength of the evidence from an expert who noted striking similarities in the lips and eyes of his client and Man X.
“It’s our contention that there was not established any form of meaningful identification,” he said.
“On balance he cannot say the accused and Mr X were one and the same person, primarily because there was no statistical database against which he could test an individual with that type of eye colour or lip shape.”
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, drew his attention to two other strands of the prosecution case: McDaid’s name being on the organising document; and his participation in previous events.
Mr Mallon accepted there would have been clear suspicions, but contended this fell short of proof.
Sir Declan then alluded to McDaid’s failure to give any evidence at trial.
“This classically is a case which calls for an answer from the person who knows whether he was on that march or not,” he added.
Judgement in the appeal was reserved.