Drink fraud: Two men and woman have convictions quashed

Court buildings in Belfast
Image caption All three were sentenced for the offences back in 2000

Two men jailed for alleged involvement in a plot to defraud a drinks firm out of more than £1m have had their convictions quashed.

The charges related to an alleged money-laundering operation at St Brendan's Irish Cream Liqueur company in Londonderry.

Court of Appeal judges in Belfast also quashed the conviction of a woman.

The trio, all from Derry, had been sentenced for conspiracy to defraud offences in 2000.

The charges related to an alleged money-laundering operation involving cheques drawn on the St Brendan's bank account.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justices Gillen and Weatherup, ruled that Sean Francis and Francis Taggart were denied a fair trial due to issues of non-disclosure and potential entrapment.

Mr Francis, formerly of Bishop Street in the city, was given a five-year prison term after being convicted.

Mr Taggart, with a previous address at Glendermott Road, was jailed for three years.

Mary Bernadette Ferguson once of Chamberlain Street, was given an 18-month suspended sentence. They had both pleaded guilty to the offence.

'Deprived of a fair trial'

In an appeal against the convictions defence lawyers produced a statement prepared by a detective sergeant named '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.

Sir Declan expressed no view on whether the detective sergeant'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."

It was confirmed that 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," Sir Declan said.

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