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12 November 1998 Edition

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A mockery of justice

By Laura Friel

At the retrial of Lee Clegg, Sean Reilly sat in Belfast High Court, his head in his hands. Just a few feet away, surrounded by his military legal team and British army cronies sat the man convicted of murdering Sean Reilly's teenage stepdaughter, a British paratrooper.

When Lee Clegg was convicted of murder in 1993 it seemed like some semblance of justice had been done. It had been an uphill battle. Sixteen British paratroopers, accompanied by an RUC officer, were members of the patrol which killed Karen Reilly and Martin Peake, seriously injuring another teenager, Markievicz Gorman. The patrol, sent out to ``investigate joyriders'', lay in ditches beside the Glen Road, riddled a stolen car with automatic fire, fired into the vehicle after it was stationary, brutally assaulted the dying and injured and then concocted a story to cover their premeditated and bloody action. Only six stood trial. Of the six only Lee Clegg was charged with murder.

At trial Clegg was exonerated in all his actions with the exception of one of the many bullets fired from his weapon. The court ruled that all bullets fired into the side of the vehicle were legitimate, but the bullet which killed Karen Reilly came from the rear.

It was not the fact that Lee Clegg had shot dead a defenceless unarmed civilian which secured his conviction. Martin Peake was shot dead but no soldier was convicted of his murder. Clegg was convicted because he shot Karen Reilly in the back. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Within three years Clegg was back on the streets, he had never been dismissed from the army and was even promoted on his release.

Now Sean Reilly must sit through the pantomime of another trial as the full weight of the British Military establishment fall behind Lee Clegg's mission to ``clear his name''.

The retrial was granted on the basis of ``new'' forensic evidence. There is no ``new'' evidence, forensic or otherwise. ``New'' does not mean that some forensic evidence overlooked during the original investigation has subsequently come to light. New evidence in this context means simulated computer graphics which suggests a bullet, which the real forensic evidence taken from the original vehicle showed was fired through the rear of the car, in the imaginary world of the computer screen may have come from another direction.

We're back to the old magic bullet syndrome reminiscent of JFK. The real is to be judged against the unreal. Forensic evidence will be assessed on the basis of fabricated evidence. This is not a retrial but a mock trial. For Sean Reilly and his family the mockery lies not only in the parody of justice they must endure but also the contempt with which the victim and the family of the victim have been treated. British justice is a joke but Irish nationalists are sick of being the butt of it.
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