3 July 2008 Edition
Case collapses against Bik McFarlane
PROMINENT republican Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane walked free from a Dublin court last week after a decade-long case against him finally collapsed. The trial ended after the judge ruled that contested statements alleged by gardaí to have been made by him in custody were unreliable and could not be used as evidence.
The prosecution admitted there was no further evidence.
The case related to the 1983 IRA operation in which supermarket boss Don Tidey was abducted. A soldier and a garda were killed in crossfire during the freeing of Tidey.
Emerging from Green Street Courthouse just moments after all charges were dropped, Bik McFarlane described his relief that the case had been finally brought to an end, ten years after he was first arrested and charged.
“It has been a long ten years and it’s been extremely difficult for my family,” he said.
“All I want to do now is put this behind me and go home and get on with family life.”
A life-long republican, Bik McFarlane came to prominence as the IRA POWs’ O/C in the H-Blocks during the 1981 Hunger Strikes.
He was arrested in January 1998 as he travelled on a bus from Dublin to Belfast and charged in connection with the Tidey case. From the outset, Bik’s arrest was seen as a cynical attempt to interfere at a crucial stage in the peace process.
“I was arrested on the morning of the very day I was scheduled to be freed on licence by the then British Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam,” said Bik.
“The Peace Process was at a crucial juncture, the pressure on unionists to engage with republicans was intense, and republicans were coming to terms with the demilitarisation of the struggle.
“I’ve always viewed my arrest, just months before negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement, as a crude attempt to throw a spanner in the political works.
“For a start, the timing of the arrest seemed more than coincidental.
“There had been ample opportunities to question and detain me earlier but no attempt had been made. The Garda could have travelled to Holland to question me after I was arrested in Amsterdam in 1986.
“I could have been questioned after I was transferred to the Kesh. They could have sought extradition or used legislation which allowed cross-border jurisdiction. Nothing was done. It was only after I actively promoted the Peace Process that I was arrested.”
What followed must be one of the most protracted and convoluted legal battles in modern republican history. A week after Bik’s arrest, he was granted bail and allowed to return to the North.
In 1999, Bik challenged the charges against him and won a judicial review. The Dublin High Court ruled that the trial should not go ahead after it was revealed that the prosecution had “lost” the evidence.
Having “lost” the first batch of evidence, the mainstay of the prosecution case shifted to alleged verbal admissions. The new evidence consisted of alleged verbal admissions of guilt written down by members of the Garda. Bik contested the statements as a fabrication.
Significantly, no mention of any statements had been made by gardaí during earlier bail applications despite the fact that the existence of statements would have almost certainly have led to the defendant being held on remand.
In 2005, the Supreme Court overturned the High Court decision and ruled the trial was to go ahead. The trial went ahead at Dublin’s non-jury Special Court on 12 June of this year.
Within three weeks of the trial opening, the defence’s legal team had comprehensively demolished the prosecution’s case.
Embarrassingly for the prosecution, some of notes relating to the alleged statements were not signed or dated by gardaí. The gardaí were castigated for grossly inappropriate procedures. The judge ruled the statements inadmissible and the case collapsed.
Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan, one of the senior republicans present during the court case, said after the verdict:
“This case should never have been brought to court.
“It was pursued with total disregard of the impact on Bik’s family, the impact on others and, in particular, the impact on the families of those who died. The judge was right to acknowledge their suffering and hardship. None of them should have been put through this lengthy ordeal.”