Four men wrongly accused of the murder of a soldier in Derry in 1979 have rejected the involvement of the PSNI in an investigation into their case.
The case against two former RUC officers accused of criminal wrong doing in pursuing the men collpased at Belfast Crown Court on Friday. Now, it has emerged that the PSNI have been asked to investigate why there appears to be substantial differences between recorded interviews and written statements take from the four men by staff at the Police Ombudsman’s office in 2005-2006. The Derry 4 are Gerry Mc Gowan, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerry Kelly.
The Derry 4 statement, read out outside the Court by Gerry McGowan says: “Following the collapse of the case it has emerged that the PSNI have been asked to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing by former OPONI staff in the compilation of witness statements taken from us in 2005/2006. We attended a lengthy meeting yesterday (Thursday) with the the Director of Public Prosecutions and senior staff, representatives of the Police Ombudsman, our solicitor Patricia Coyle and Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre. The Director raised serious concerns about differences between taped interviews and written statements which he had only just become aware of. At no point was there any suggestion that the evidential problems were as a result of deliberate wrong doing or criminality by former staff at OPONI. Our clear understanding was that there may have been problems of interpretation and errors may have been made by a staff member in compiling a written complaint.
“We are now informed that the PSNI are being called in. We totally reject any PSNI involvement in resolving these issues. We will not cooperate with such an investigation and we are astonished at the inherent contradiction of this development.
“There are indeed serious issues of criminal wrongdoing in our case. These concern the actions of RUC detectives in Strand Rd barracks in 1979. To request that police officers investigate the circumstances surrounding the taking of statements in a case which revolves around the taking of statements by other police officers is bizarre and unprecedented.
“What also deserves further investigation is the original shameful decision by the DPP to prosecute us on the basis of flimsy and falsified evidence obtained under duress in 1979. The Director himself admitted during our meeting yesterday that we should not have been prosecuted.”
Gerry McGowan continued: “I was prosecuted in 1979 for the murder of a soldier in Derry. Myself, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerry Kelly were all innocent of this offence. All 4 of us were acquitted by the Lord Chief Justice in 1998. We complained to the Police Ombudsman about the original RUC investigation. After 7 years of investigation by the OPONI and 2 years consideration by the PPS there was sufficient evidence to start a prosecution this year. Two of the police officers involved in the original investigation were prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.
“Just last week this trial was moved to Belfast following representations by my solicitors. The trial was listed before a jury for February 2015 for hearing in 6 weeks’ time. I met with Director of Public Prosecutions and the Police Ombudsman today. I was advised that the PPS are no longer proceeding with the prosecutions. It is my view that this case should have proceeded to trial and been decided by a jury. I was looking forward to having the evidence outlined in court and to explain to a jury what happened to the 4 of us in Strand Road in 1979 as teenagers. I am disappointed in the timing and manner in which the PPS have come to this decision. This was the only current prosecution of a legacy case arising from police conduct in the 1970s in Northern Ireland.
“The only consolation was the comment from the Director of Public Prosecutions that he would not have prosecuted the four of us on the basis of the statements that were submitted at the time.”