Northern Ireland

Three acquitted as anonymity appeal fails

Three Belfast men were acquitted of conspiracy to rob charges after judges dismissed a bid to overturn a refusal of anonymity for police witnesses.

The Court of Appeal rejected the challenge brought on behalf of Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC.

It had been earlier claimed that his intervention was unfair.

Full reasons for the decision will be given at a later stage.

Unprecedented

The three men to be cleared are: Bernard Ronney, 42, of Donegall Road in the city; Alexander Carlin, 37, and Mark McKeaveney, 35 - both of Iris Street.

Their lawyers argued that Mr McGrory should not be allowed to appeal the refusal of screening for undercover officers because he previously defended a co-accused who pleaded guilty.

According to those close to the case the situation was legally unprecedented.

Martin O'Rourke QC, appearing for one of the three accused, argued that it was unlawful and unfair.

He told the court: "Counsel have become prosecutor within the same case. It fundamentally undermines legal professional privilege.

"How can a defendant have legal professional privilege if his lawyer can, at some later stage, act for the prosecution.

"There is no protection whatsoever."

Abuse

The case centred on an alleged attempt to rob a security van in Belfast three years ago.

One man who had been represented by Mr McGrory has admitted his involvement.

Charges against the three co-accused depended on police witnesses who wanted anonymity before they would testify at trial.

But a judge refused to grant the screening on the principle that defendants have a right to face their accusers.

That decision prompted the prosecution appeal that defence lawyers claimed was an abuse of process.

Following submissions Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, declined to grant leave for the appeal.

On that basis, they ordered the acquittal of Mr Carlin, Mr Rooney and Mr McKeaveney under the terms of the Criminal Justice Order 2004.

Sir Declan confirmed that a written judgment would be issued in due course.