Derry republican may seek damages if he wins new legal battle

Neil Hegarty.
Neil Hegarty.

A dissident republican from Derry convicted of having explosives may seek “substantial” damages if he wins a new legal battle to have his return to prison declared unlawful, his lawyer has said.

Neil Hegarty claims he was wrongly held in custody for a further 76 days after his licence was revoked for allegedly denying entry to install electronic monitoring equipment at his home in Derry.

The Court of Appeal has reserved judgment in the 53-year-old’s bid to establish the authorities acted unreasonably by recalling him to jail.

Following the hearing, his solicitor, Ciaran Shiels, of Madden & Finucane, said: “We contend that the decisions to revoke our client’s license were unlawful, and if the court proceeds to quash such decisions it may give rise to a substantial claim for damages.”

Hegarty was one of three men sentenced to ten years for possession of explosives in Derry.

Police stopped them in a car containing an anti-personnel device in the Creggan area of the city in December 2012.

Hegarty served five years behind bars before being released on licence in December 2017, under conditions which included compliance with electronic monitoring.

But, the following day, the court heard, the PSNI informed a Parole Commissioner that he failed to admit security staff to his home to fit the equipment.

A police report alleged G4S personnel who went to the property at Benevenagh Gardens observed a number of men inside and were refused entry.

It was also claimed that, before leaving prison, Hegarty had revealed he would not be consenting to having the equipment fitted.

The Parole Commissioner concluded that he had displayed “wilful disengagement” with the licence process and recommended the revocation.

Hegarty launched judicial review proceedings after the Department of Justice decided to return him to prison.

His lawyers argued the move was unlawfully based on false assertions that he intended not to cooperate with the tagging condition.

They disputed the accuracy of evidence against him and questioned the description of the house security staff said they visited.

The Commissioner had unreasonably accepted unattributed, unexplained and false assertions of fact as evidence without a proper enquiry, it was contended.

In February this year, a High Court judge dismissed the challenge - prompting Hegarty to mount an appeal.

Later that month, he was released again following a further review of his case.

However, his legal team pressed ahead with their claims that the 76 days spent in custody during that period were unlawful.

Barrister Dessie Hutton contended: “It is clear that something has gone seriously wrong in the course of the decision-making process governing the revocation of the appellant’s licence.”

Tony McGleenan QC, responding for the Department, argued that Hegarty was “clearly not enthusiastically embracing” the electronic monitoring condition.

“The appellant was not engaging wholeheartedly, without reservation, with the tagging requirement which was the only public safety safeguard the authorities were able to put in place,” he told the court.

Following submissions, the three appeal judges confirmed there were reserving their decision.