A Londonderry man given a suspended jail sentence for being the masked lead flag bearer in a republican parade was safely convicted, the Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday.
Senior judges dismissed Patrick John McDaid’s bid to overturn a verdict that he managed a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation after rejecting all grounds of challenge.
In May last year McDaid, 43, was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for three years, after a judge decided he was ‘Man X’ seen carrying an Irish tricolour at the front of the march.
A seven-strong, masked colour party had headed a parade close to republican graves in the City Cemetery, Derry on Easter Sunday 2011.
The commemoration, organised by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, involved a speech being made on behalf of the Real IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann (OnH).
As well as the photographs and facial mapping evidence, the judge in the non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court heard how police later seized a document which purported to be minutes of a meeting to organise the march.
It included the reference: “Colour party - McDaid to get people sorted”.
Defence lawyers appealed the verdict by claiming he was never properly identified.
It was contended that nothing more than a surname was contained in the document.
Counsel for McDaid also argued that experts in facial mapping and image comparison techniques were not certain he had been the man pictured in a balaclava.
A conclusion that striking similarities existed in the lips and eyes of his client and Man X was not enough, he submitted.
But the court held that the judge sitting in the non-jury trial had properly categorised this evidence as being of moderate support to the prosecution case.
McDaid’s involvement in previous gatherings was correctly handled as well, the court found.
Lord Justice Coghlin said: “He was entitled to draw the inference from his presence at and role in the 2007 and 2009 events as indicating that the appellant not only had an interest in such affairs, an interest that was not merely historic, but that he also enjoyed a degree of standing within the group organising the events.”
Rejecting a contention that circumstantial evidence in the case was weak, the judge said it was the combination of evidence which mattered.
Lord Justice Coghlin, sitting with Lord Chief Justice Morgan and Lord Justice Girvan, then pointed to McDaid’s failure to give evidence at trial about whether he took part in the 2011 commemoration.
“The inference that was open to the learned trial judge to draw was that the appellant either did not have an answer to the evidence identifying him as X, or did not have an answer that would stand up to cross-examination,” he said.
“We are not persuaded that there is any respect in which this conviction is unsafe. Accordingly, the appeal will be dismissed.”