A man who was denied a civil service job – after a police security check claimed he was an IRA member – is to receive damages after a 20 year fight to clear his name.
Francis Devlin reached a settlement in his Belfast High Court action against the Chief Constable after a judge was told on Tuesday his life had been “turned upside down” by the smear.
Following the outcome, Mr Devlin said: “My name has finally been exonerated in court.”
The 50-year-old, from Cookstown in Co Tyrone, sued for malicious falsehood and negligent misstatement over losing out on an administrative assistant post despite a successful interview in 1992.
Years later, during a fair employment case, he discovered the reason was a security clearance check which alleged he was an active member of the Provisional IRA during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Mr Devlin stressed that he was never part of any illegal organisation or ever questioned about involvement.
He now works for the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Division within the Department for Social Development.
Opening his claim in court on Tuesday, barrister Brian Fee QC said: “As a result of the failure to get this job based on this adverse security report, the plaintiff’s life has been turned upside down.”
“He felt under suspicion in his local community, he felt that the police attitude towards him was hostile and he felt ashamed and degraded to a degree by the fact that he had been labelled as someone who could not obtain security clearance.”
In evidence, Mr Devlin said neither he nor any member of his family was ever in the IRA.
“Nobody has given me an explanation how they arrived at that conclusion (about me),” he told Lord Justice Higgins.
Mr Devlin recalled incidents where local police would stop and search him in front of his family.
On one occasion, an RUC officer jokingly told him he should join the police because he had failed to get into the civil service, the court heard.
Before any cross-examination, the judge was told after lunch that the case had been settled on terms endorsed.
Mr Devlin is to receive an undisclosed payout, plus his legal costs as part of the resolution. No liability is admitted.
Outside the court he said: “I’m relieved it’s all over after 20 years. I had the opportunity to give my evidence and it wasn’t challenged or contradicted.
“Nothing has been produced to justify the claims that I was a security risk.”
Mr Devlin added that his life was changed by the assessment.
“I was denied a job in the public sector for over 10 years and it has also left a fear in my mind that someone would believe I was in an organisation and I would be subject to assassination.
“For the first time I’ve had the chance to clear my name and nobody has challenged that. To me that is a victory.”
His solicitor, Jack Quigley of Madden and Finucane, described the outcome of damages being paid as a complete vindication for Mr Devlin.
“This settlement shows that it was proper for Mr Devlin to bring this action and continue to pursue it over an incident dating back almost 20 years.”