Two men jailed for alleged involvement in a plot to defraud a drinks firm out of more than £1 million have had their convictions quashed.
Senior judges in Belfast ruled that Sean Francis and Francis Taggart were denied a fair trial due to issues of non-disclosure and potential entrapment.
They also quashed the conviction of a woman, Mary Bernadette Ferguson, in the same case linked to the St Brendan’s Irish Cream Liqueur company.
The trio, all from Derry, had been sentenced for conspiracy to defraud offences back in 2000.
Mr Francis, formerly of Bishop Street in the city, was handed a five-year prison term after being convicted.
Mr Taggart, with a previous address at Glendermott Road, was jailed for three years, while Ms Ferguson, once of Chamberlain Street, was given an 18-month suspended sentence. They had both pleaded guilty to the offence.
The charges related to an alleged money-laundering operation involving cheques drawn on the St Brendan’s bank account.
In an appeal against the convictions defence lawyers produced a statement prepared by a Detective Sergeant ‘Z’ in December 2001.
That statement suggested a named police informer provided information about the alleged offence.
It also raised the possibility that he may have been given “participating informant status” over criminal activity linked to the money-laundering, the Court of Appeal heard.
Setting out reasons for the decision reached in the case, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan expressed no view on whether Detective Sgt Z’s account was correct.
But he said: “We are satisfied that the information contained in the statement ought to have been disclosed to the defendants.
“If disclosed, it would have raised issues around entrapment which could have given rise to a real possibility that the prosecution would have been stayed or relevant evidence excluded.”
Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justices Gillen and Weatherup, confirmed the Public Prosecution Service agreed that the appeals should be allowed.
“In the absence of such disclosure we are satisfied that the applicants were deprived of a fair trial and that their convictions were unsafe,” he said.
“Accordingly we extend time (to mount an appeal), grant leave to appeal and quash the convictions. There is no application for a retrial.”