Bryson and McKay Twitter messages ‘not criminal plot’
Any Twitter messages between a loyalist activist and the former chair of a Stormont probe into a billion pound property deal do not amount to a criminal plot, the High Court heard yesterday.
Defence lawyers claimed there was nothing illegal about Jamie Bryson’s exchanges with ex-Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay ahead of giving evidence to the inquiry.
Judgment was reserved in their bid to quash decisions to return them both for trial on a charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
The case relates to a Stormont finance committee inquiry into the £1.2bn sale of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama)’s Northern Ireland property portfolio to US investment giant Cerberus.
In September 2015 Mr Bryson gave evidence at the hearing chaired by Mr McKay.
Using parliamentary privilege, he made an unsubstantiated allegation about who was set to profit from the deal.
Following a police investigation Mr Bryson, Mr McKay, and Sinn Fein member Thomas O’Hara were all charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
Judicial review proceedings were launched after a district judge returned them for trial at the Crown Court.
They claim a change in the specifics of the charge rendered the committal process unfair.
Martin O’Rourke QC, for Mr McKay, contended: “This matter morphed in the Crown’s closing into a case that was entirely different from the case presented in particularisation at its opening.”
During a two-day hearing judges were told of alleged Twitter messages between the defendants on how evidence should be given to the committee. Counsel accepted that if there was contact, it established some form of agreement.
“We don’t necessarily challenge the prosecution’s assertion that the exchanges referred to were designed or intended to reduce the ability of the committee to raise objection,” Mr O’Rourke said.
“That still does not establish a criminal offence of misconduct in a public office, even if what was done was done intentionally and is inconsistent with the office that the person holds.”
Backing those submissions, John Larkin QC, representing Mr Bryson, claimed it was a miscarriage of justice to return someone for trail on an offence which does not exist.
“There is nothing wrong as a matter of principle, in contact between a potential witness to a committee, and an Assembly member who happens to be a member of that committee, including the chair,” he said.
“Fundamentally, all that the Twitter exchanges show is a commitment to put forward honest evidence about a matter of public importance.”
Reserving judgment, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan pledged: “We aim to give a ruling in this case in the next number of weeks.”