10 February 2000 Edition

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RUC assault officers face jail


Three RUC officers and a British soldier may be jailed after being convicted of a number of charges, including attempting to pervert the course of justice, threatening to kill, assault and causing actual bodily harm. The presiding judge described the convictions as ``serious'' and if any custodial sentences are imposed it will be the first time any RUC officer has been jailed for a crime conducted while on duty.

The case took a dramatic turn in Belfast's High Court on Wednesday, 9 February, when two RUC officers, M. Magowan and A.T. Lea, admitted their guilt and changed their pleas accordingly. A third RUC officer, D.J. Neill, had already pleaded guilty. The British soldier, M.S. Butcher, had first pleaded not guilty but changed his plea to guilty when the case opened on Monday.

The case arose following an incident two years ago when 19-year-old Bernard Griffin was arrested by the RUC and put into the back of an RUC Land Rover and taken to the local barracks. Arresting RUC officer Neill sat beside Bernard in the back of the vehicle. The soldier also travelled in the back of the vehicle. Magowan was the driver and Lea the front passenger.

On the journey, the young nationalist was subjected to persistent sectarian abuse, was called ``a Fenian bastard'', and repeatedly punched in the face and hit with a baton across the back of his head and upper back by RUC officer Lea. At one point, the RUC officer brought his face close to Bernard and said ``I am going to get the LVF to shoot you.'' Lea then threatened to ``drop'' Bernard off at the Shankill.

Bernard was forced to sit with his head between his knees, was beaten with a baton across the back and right leg and was struck in the mouth. At one stage, Bernard said to the British soldier, ``there's no call for this,'' but the soldier refused to intervene.

After his release, Bernard was taken to the Mater hospital by his solicitor, where he received treatment for bruising to his head and right ear, an abrasion to his forehead, bleeding from the mouth with a number of chipped teeth, a swollen finger and injury to his knee.

The RUC officers and soldier involved in the assault almost evaded charges. However a week later, Bernard was walking with a friend when they were stopped and questioned by two RUC officers travelling in a Land Rover. During the questioning, one RUC officer said, ``I already know you Bernard from the other night in the Land Rover. You weren't too hard when we were beating you.''

Bernard noted the RUC officer's number on his shoulder and made a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. In an attempt to cover up their guilt, two RUC officers claimed they had been injured by Bernard when he was arrested. However a statement by the third RUC officer, who spoke with an English accent, admitted the assault.

In court, when a second member of the patrol, the British soldier, admitted he was guilty, the fate of the remaining two was sealed. A day later, they changed their plea to guilty. In his summing up, Judge McLaughlin warned that these were very serious crimes and hinted that a custodial sentence was likely to be imposed. The court adjourned for four weeks while the judge considers sentencing.

An Phoblacht
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