RELATIVES and friends of a man serving a 16-year-sentence for the attempted murder of Belfast loyalist leader Johnny Adair were jubilant last night after he was granted a retrial.
The mother of Ardoyne man Stephen Larkin summed up the feelings of those who had campaigned for his release: “I do believe the truth will now come out and that he will soon be coming home.” Kate Larkin was speaking outside the court of appeal in Belfast after fresh alibi evidence had convinced three judges that her son was entitled to a retrial. Mrs Larkin said: “I am that excited I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. This is great news for all of us who campaigned for Stephen’s freedom and it is just wonderful for his daughters Rachel, 6, and Aoife, 3.” Mrs Larkin paid tribute to the support the campaign received from the US-based Lawyers for Peace and Justice in Northern Ireland, British and Irish Watch, the Committee on the Administration of Justice and other organisations and individuals. “It was so good of all these people, particularly those who travelled from America, and they will never know how grateful I am to all of them,” said Mrs Larkin. The announcement that there was to be a retrial was made on the second day of Larkin’s appeal against his conviction and sentence last January for a gun attack on Adair, who was later jailed for directing UFF terrorist activities. During Monday’s hearing two witnesses said Larkin could not have been involved as he was with them in Highfield social club at the time of the shooting in March 1993. Delivering judgement yesterday, Lord Justice MacDermott said that if the witnesses were correct then their evidence amounted to an alibi. “But it must be remembered that three witnesses picked out Larkin at an identification parade,” said the judge, who heard the appeal along with Lord Justice Nicholson and Mr Justice Campbell. Lord Justice MacDermott said the fresh evidence had to be considered in the context of all the evidence at the trial and added: “Accordingly we are satisfied that this is a case where there should be a fresh trial.” He directed that the new trial should be held as soon as possible and added: “That looks like the beginning of April.” Larkin’s solicitor Peter Madden had a brief talk with him before he was taken back to prison. Afterwards Mr Madden said: “Obviously he is very happy to get an opportunity to have the matter reconsidered by another court. “He is very grateful to the two witnesses who came forward to help him clear his name.”