Trial of two former RUC detectives collapses

Two of the Derry four Gerry McGowan (left) and Stephen Crumlish leave Laganside Court after the trial collapsed
Two of the Derry four Gerry McGowan (left) and Stephen Crumlish leave Laganside Court after the trial collapsed

The trial of two former RUC detectives dramatically collapsed on Friday after the prosecution offered no evidence against them.

John McGahan, 71, and 64-year-old Philip Noel Thomson were due to stand trial next year accused of perverting the course of justice over an investigation into the killing of a soldier in Londonderry in the 1970s.

Both men had previously denied the charges.

At Belfast Crown Court on Friday, prosecution counsel Charles MacCreanor QC told Mr Justice Weir: “I am instructed by the Public Prosecution Service to offer no evidence in this matter.’’

No details were given in court as to why the PPS had decided not to proceed to trial with the case.

Greg Berry QC, for both defendants, told Mr Justice Weir that the former detectives were not present in court as “we only became aware of this matter yesterday”.

He added: “We would be seeking a verdict in this matter and we would request a jury panel be sworn in for that.’’

Mr Justice Weir agreed and said a jury would be sworn in on January 12 to formally deliver a not guilty verdict on the charges faced by the former officers.

The charges related to an RUC investigation into the murder of Royal Welsh Fusiliers officer Lieutenant Steven Kirby who was shot dead by the Provisional IRA in February 1979 at Abercorn Road in Londonderry.

The RUC charged four teenagers with his murder: Gerry McGowan, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerard Kelly.

They became known as ‘The Derry Four’ after they skipped bail and crossed the border into the Republic.

They always protested their innocence and almost 20 years later all charges against them were dropped.

Their treatment by the RUC was investigated by the Police Ombudsman and in 2012 the matter was referred to the PPS.

Based on the ombudsman’s report, the PPS decided to proffer the charges against the two former RUC detectives.

The complainant in the case, Gerry McGowan, said he was “disappointed’’ with the decision by the PPS not to proceed with the case to trial.

In a statement issued through his solicitors Mr McGowan said: “I was prosecuted in 1979 for the murder of a soldier in Derry.

“Me, Michael Toner, Stephen Crumlish and Gerry Kelly were all innocent of this offence. All four of us were acquitted by the Lord Chief Justice in 1998.

“We complained to the Police Ombudsman about the original RUC investigation. After seven years of investigation by the Police Ombudsman, a file was sent to the PPS recommending prosecution.

“After two years of consideration by the PPS, there was sufficient evidence to start a prosecution this year.

“Two of the police officers involved in the original investigation and interviews were prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.

“I met with the Director of Public Prosecutions and members of the Police Ombudsman’s office yesterday. I was advised that the PPS are no longer proceeding with the prosecution.

“It is my view that this case should have proceeded to trial and been decided by a jury.

“I am disappointed in the timing and manner in which the PPS have come to this decision.

“My lawyers have today sought access to all documents, including the newly disclosed materials, relied upon by the PPS in making this decision and I will be taking advice on this when I have seen the documents.”

A PPS spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have recently been furnished with certain material by the Office of the Police Ombudsman which was not made available to PPS when the decision to prosecute was taken.

“This material undermined the prosecution case to the extent that we have concluded that there is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction.

“Accordingly, we have advised the court that we do not intend to offer any evidence against the accused.

“The director has met with the police ombudsman and has expressed his concern in relation to the late disclosure of this material.

“The matter is now the subject of investigation.”

The Office of the Police Ombudsman said: “Given the concerns raised with us by the Public Prosecution Service, we have referred the matter to the PSNI to consider if it warrants a criminal investigation.’’

It is understood the concerns related to a matter which took place in 2005 and involves an investigator who no longer works for the Police Ombudsman.