Husband of plastic-bullet victim wins the right to challenge prosecutors

The husband of a woman killed by a plastic bullet nearly 28 years ago has won permission to challenge a decision not to charge anyone with her murder.

Jim McCabe, whose wife Nora died after being hit by a baton round in west Belfast, was granted leave to seek a judicial review in his case against the prosecuting authorities.

His lawyers have claimed police officers may have plotted to pervert the course of justice following Mrs McCabe’s death in July 1981.

They further alleged that the RUC man who fired the fatal round meant to seriously or fatally wound the innocent mother-of-three.

As well as contesting decisions by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1983 not to bring charges for

murder or perjury at the subsequent inquest, Mr McCabe is challenging reasons given last year for the failure to prosecute over the death.

A key part of the case centres on footage shot by a Canadian television crew who were in Belfast to cover the hunger strikes when Mrs McCabe was killed.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) claimed police assertions about general disorder and rioting in the area were borne out by the film, a Divisional Court panel heard.

It was also stated that prosecutions were not brought because it was impossible to disprove police allegations that two petrol bombers were nearby when Mrs McCabe was shot.

In addition, the PPS took the view that a court could not be certain that the officer who fired the fatal plastic bullet – identified as Witness A – intended to kill or cause serious injury.

But Mr McCabe’s lawyers claimed footage played in court proved the police depiction of rioting and disorder in the area was false.

They also argued that the film completely discredited accounts given on oath by five police officers and Witness A.

Lawyers for the PPS based their opposition to the application on the passage of time and that no new facts had emerged since 1983.

However, Lord Justice Higgins ruled yesterday that it was an appropriate case to grant leave to apply for a judicial review.

With a full hearing expected later this year, Mr McCabe described the judgment as a step closer to obtaining justice.

“I’m pleased we have cleared the first hurdle,” he said outside the court.

“My kids and I have been waiting a long, long time for some form of positive movement in the case.

“It’s just a small step in a long journey we have been on since 1981.”

His solicitor, Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane, claimed it was highly unusual for the court to grant leave to apply for judicial review when there had been such a delay in bringing the challenge.

“That’s a reflection of the significant issues and public interest involved in the case,” Mr Shiels said.