Martin Galvin with a letter that featured in the Irish News on 27 January 2015. Martin Galvin is a veteran advocate on behalf of Irish republicanism and a US Attorney at Law.
There can be few wrongs more likely to bring justice into disrepute, than innocent men and women sent to prison by forced confessions and perjury. The ‘Derry Four’ case was a chance to prove that crown courts would no longer whitewash those in British uniforms who committed such wrongs. Instead the crown added insult to injury.
The injury to Michael Toner, Gerry Kelly, Gerry McGowan and Stephen Crumlish took place in 1979, when as innocent teenagers they were lifted and made sign fabricated confessions to the IRA shooting of a British Lieutenant.
The insult took place when crown prosecutors called no witnesses against former RUC members for taking these discredited confessions, while ‘Derry Four’ witnesses protested outside the Court with a banner proclaiming “Justice Delayed Justice Denied.”
This was no isolated or inconsequential case. After the British shifted from Internment to Diplock Courts, what were termed ‘Castlereagh confessions’ made up the evidence in four out of five political prosecutions. Diplock judges of the day routinely rubberstamped RUC claims that all confessions were voluntary and rejected the testimony of those beaten or threatened. Most victims were denied bail and unjustly sentenced. Many live today with the disqualifications of a conviction, while RUC who beat or threatened them are rewarded with pensions.
The ‘Derry Four’ case was unusual in one respect. They got bail. They fled to escape 15 years in the H-blocks. Their lives were shattered. It would take almost 20 years before their false confessions and charges would be overturned.
Meanwhile new structures and safeguards were supposed to guarantee a new dawn of justice. Constabulary Boards, Partnerships and an Ombudsman were put in place. A compromised justice ministry was agreed and Barra McGrory appointed DPP.
The ‘Derry Four’ sought justice through these new structures. They went to the Ombudsman in 2005. Years later their file went to the DPP. At each step these victims were not only cooperative but keenly so. Their case tested whether the new safeguards worked and the RUC would no longer be gifted with de facto immunity or impunity for line of duty crimes against Republicans.
The case collapsed. The crown said it would call no witnesses, with witnesses literally left out in the cold, protesting the crown’s refusal to call them. There was claimed to be some problematic statement taken long ago. No such statement has been seen by the ‘Derry Four’.
Observers may draw a different conclusion. Observers may conclude that all these heralded safeguards merely safeguard impunity for those who committed crimes, including torture and perjury, in the name of British rule.