Man who pleaded guilty to east Belfast murders set to appeal

A man jailed for murdering two friends is set to give evidence as part of a bid to overturn his convictions.

Justice system
Justice system

In an unusual move, Ciaran Nugent will testify at the Court of Appeal about the circumstances in which he previously pleaded guilty to killing Caron Smyth and Finbar McGrillen in the latter’s apartment in Ravenhill, east Belfast, in December 2013.

Details emerged on Friday as senior judges listed his challenge for a three-day hearing in June.

Nugent, 36 and with a previous address at the Simon Community on the Falls Road, is serving a life term for his role in the murders.

But he is now mounting an appeal based on revisions to the law on joint enterprise.

His legal team contend that the guilty plea did not include any intention to inflict serious harm on the victims – now a requirement under the new interpretations.

Having foresight of a deadly attack launched by an accomplice is no longer enough to be jointly convicted of the murders, they claim.

Ms Smyth, 40, and Mr McGrillen, 42, were beaten to death, sustaining multiple injuries including fractured ribs and damaged organs, as well as head, neck and chest wounds consistent with being punched, kicked and stamped on.

In 2015 Shaun Patrick Joseph Hegarty, 37, formerly of Grainne House in the New Lodge area of Belfast, admitted the murders and received a minimum 18-year prison sentence.

He had been in a relationship with Ms Smyth which ended days before the killings.

Nugent, with a previous address at the Simon Community on the city’s Falls Road, then also pleaded guilty to the murders on the grounds of joint enterprise - namely that he anticipated a serious assault and assisted in efforts to clean the scene, but that he did not inflict any injuries.

For this lesser role he was ordered to serve at least 14 years behind bars before being considered for release on licence.

Hegarty and Nugent were said to have made an early morning trek across parts of Belfast to reach the apartment.

Police called to the flat following reports of a break-in found the two victims’ bodies lying on a duvet in the living room.

Nugents’ barristers, Tim Moloney QC and Damien Halleron, contend that the circumstances in which he pleaded guilty have since changed due to a 2016 Supreme Court ruling which reversed previous case law on joint enterprise.

According to their case foresight of serious harm being caused no longer equates to having an intent to inflict it.

Nugent has also now agreed to give evidence about consultations with his previous legal representatives.

Those discussions are expected to be explored in greater detail at the main hearing of the appeal.