4 November 1999 Edition

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Vindicated after 20 years

By Pádraig MacDabhaid

The case of the two North Belfast men jailed for murder on falsified RUC evidence in 1979 and who have finally had their convictions overturned could signal a torrent of similar cases.

On Friday 29 October, Paddy McKinney and Billy Gorman heard Lord Chief Justice Carswell announce that their convictions for the 1974 murder of RUC Constable Thomas McClinton had been quashed.

Billy Gorman was 14 and Paddy McKinney was 17 when they were alleged to have killed McClinton. However, they were not arrested until five years later. They were taken to Castlereagh interrogation centre, where the RUC alleged that they made a confession after three days of interrogation.

Between them, the two men have served 24 years in prison, Gorman was released in 1993 and McKinney in 1989.

Twenty years after their original convictions, a forensic ESDA test proved that their confessions were extensively rewritten, in short they were forged. The Crown offered no evidence against the new evidence.

The men's ordeal began in 1980 when both were charged with murder and the possession of a revolver.

``Both Paddy and I knew we had nothing to do with the murder. You could say we were naïve but we believed that the truth would come out in the court - how wrong we were,'' said Billy Gorman.

Claims that they were being framed were rejected at the original trial by Judge Maurice Gibson, indeed Gibson even went as far as to praise the ``interviewing'' techniques of the RUC.

Their time in prison was not an easy one. Angered by his ordeal, Gorman entered prison, immediately refused to wear the prison uniform and remained on the blanket until the protest ended.

Coming through one of the hardest periods in Irish history and watching Bobby Sands begin his hunger strike three or four cells away, it was no surprise that when asked to join the escape bid in 1983, Gorman jumped at the chance.

``At the time I saw it as the opportunity for an innocent man to strike back at the system which robbed me of my liberty. In a way, escaping was the legal appeal I never had.''

Gorman was recaptured while trying to escape. Stripped naked, the skin was torn off his back when he was dragged over a tarmac yard back to prison by his feet.

The damages he was awarded for the savage beating he received after the escape attempt were not given to him. They were given to RUC Constable McClinton's family.

Billy Gorman says that he knows of at least 50 other miscarriages of justice which have never come to light.

``We were the lucky ones, at least our notes were safe for all those years. A lot of men have no hope of getting justice because the RUC have turned around and said that they were destroyed.'' He was explaining the unusual circumstances which allowed their case to come to light. It was the actions of their senior council at the time of their original trial which allowed the truth to emerge saying ``Our barrister, John Curran, actually put us back in the witness box to give us the opportunity to assert our innocence, even after conviction - a step never taken before or since in any court in the North. At the time we were devastated and did not think much of it, but he later explained that he believed that corrupt cases such as ours would one day be exposed for what they were and he was giving us what turned out to be a crucial opportunity to prove our innocence.''

Curran's actions were instrumental in proving the men's innocence. By making McKinney and Gorman go into the witness box and insisting that the evidence be held by the Court Service, the senior counsel ensured that the RUC did not have possession of the evidence and so could not ``lose'' the evidence.

One thing is for sure. Their barrister, John Curran, was right when he said at the original trial: ``A day will come when the nature of convictions like yours will be challenged again.''

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