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11 May 2000 Edition

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RUC officers jailed


``The assault was persistent and quite deliberate. It was perpetuated against a man who was arrested in the middle of the night, who was vulnerable and in an environment which was a hostile one for him. It was accompanied by deeply repulsive sectarian behaviour which is more often associated with hooligans and can have no place in a civilised society.

``Together with the threats to drop him off in the Shankill Road and to have him shot by the LVF, it constituted a gross abuse of human rights. Others were present within the limited confines of a police Land Rover when [the assault] occurred and yet did nothing to stop it. They engaged in a systematic cover up to avoid the consequences of the criminal attack.''

These are the words of Judge McLaughlin, delivering his judgment against three RUC officers and a British soldier sentenced on Wednesday, 10 May, in relation to a brutal sectarian attack carried out against a young Belfast nationalist in 1998.

The four defendants had been convicted last year of a number of charges, including attempting to pervert the course of justice, threatening to kill, assault and causing actual bodily harm. The attack took place in the back of an RUC Land Rover while their victim was under arrest and all four defendants were on duty.

RUC constable Michael Magowan, full time members of the RUC reserve Andrew Lea and Darren Neill, and British Army Lance Corporal Matthew Butcher all appeared for sentencing at Belfast's Crown court.

The case arose following an incident two years ago in which nationalist teenager Bernard Griffin was arrested and put in the back of an RUC Land Rover in the early hours of 9 February 1998.

On the journey to the local RUC barracks, Bernard was subjected to persistent sectarian abuse, repeatedly punched in the face and hit with a baton across the back of his head and upper back by an RUC officer. He was threatened, forced to sit with his head between his knees, beaten with a baton across his back and right leg and struck in the mouth. After his release, he required hospital treatment for his injuries.

The RUC officers and British soldier involved in the assault almost evaded charges. However a week after the attack, Bernard was walking with a friend when they were stopped by two RUC officers who were travelling in a Land Rover. One RUC officer made an admission which enabled Bernard to identify him as one of the assailants.

Bernard noted down the RUC officer's identification number and made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

At first the patrol involved in the attack attempted to cover up their guilt. In a scenario reminiscent of case against British paratroopers involved in the killing of Karen Reilly, RUC officer Lea allowed RUC officer Magowan to inflict injuries upon him to support a false claim that the patrol had been assaulted by the prisoner. Their concocted story collapsed after Lea admitted the fabrication.

The case went to trial with three of the defendants pleading not guilty. At trial, Butcher changed his plea, forcing the other two to admit their guilt. Judge McLaughlin sentenced Neill to two years imprisonment and Magowan was jailed for one year. McLaughlin imposed a fine of £1,000 each on Lea and Butcher.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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