Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions will not be opposing one of the so-called Colombia Three’s appeal against a weapons conviction, a court has heard.
Counsel for Barra McGrory invited senior judges to exercise their discretion to quash the guilty verdict against Martin McCauley because relevant material was withheld at trial.
Such conduct “serves only to undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and brings it into disrepute”, they were told.
The development comes just days before a planned hearing of McCauley’s challenge to being convicted of having three rifles more than 30 years ago.
The 52-year-old, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was arrested along with Niall Connolly and James Monaghan in Colombia in 2001 and accused of IRA training of rebel Farc guerrilla forces.
At the time, the three men’s detention threatened to destabilise the Northern Ireland peace process.
They were initially cleared of the charge, only to be convicted on appeal and sentenced to 17 years in jail.
But the three men avoided imprisonment by fleeing Colombia in 2004, turning up in the Irish Republic a year later.
Even though McCauley faces extradition to South America if he returns to Northern Ireland, the Court of Appeal in Belfast is examining a weapons conviction for which he received a two-year suspended jail sentence.
He was charged after being shot and wounded by an RUC team at a farm shed near Lurgan where the antique-style guns were discovered in 1982.
His 17-year-old friend Michael Tighe was killed in the operation.
That death was one of six cases John Stalker, the former assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, and Sir Colin Sampson of West Yorkshire Police, investigated to try to establish whether police intended to kill.
McCauley disputes police claims that he was armed and that three warnings were ignored before they opened fire.
His lawyers argue the conviction should be quashed because events at the farm shed were secretly recorded by police but never disclosed to the defence at trial.
The tape could have established whose account was more accurate, it is contended.
His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Case Review Commission, set up to examine miscarriages of justice.
The body has supplied a confidential annex to back its belief that the conviction is unsafe.
Central to the challenge are the contents of the Stalker and Sampson reports which have never been made public.
With McCauley’s appeal due to be heard next week, senior counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions told the court that the case has been reconsidered.
Gerald Simpson QC said material relevant to the decision to prosecute was withheld from the then Director of Public Prosecutions, the court and the defence at McCauley’s trial.
“Such conduct… serves only to undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system and brings it into disrepute,” he added.
The barrister confirmed: “I’m therefore instructed to inform the court that the PPS does not intend to make any submissions seeking to uphold the conviction, and the PPS invites the court to exercise its discretion to quash the conviction.”
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, then listed the appeal for a one-day hearing.
Outside the court McCauley’s solicitor, Fearghal Shiels of Madden and Finucane, said: “We welcome the Director’s decision not to stand over Mr McCauley’s conviction.
“However, that is not determinative of his appeal and we look forward to taking the opportunity next week to persuade the members of the court that Mr McCauley’s conviction is unsafe and should be quashed.”