Northern Ireland

Stephen Brown loses appeal over Robb, McIlwaine murders

David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb
Image caption David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb were murdered in County Armagh

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a man convicted of the murder of two teenagers in County Armagh.

Stephen Leslie Brown, 30, was found guilty in 2009 of the murders of David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb.

The victims' mutilated bodies were found on an isolated country road near Tandragee, in February 2000.

Brown's appeal was based on the reliance of the evidence of Mark Burcombe, who admitted a lesser charge over the murders.

Counsel for Brown contended that the trial judge erred by not rejecting Burcombe's evidence in light of a number of alleged inconsistencies and falsehoods.

However, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "The meticulous and careful manner in which the learned trial judge reviewed the detail of Burcombe's evidence and assessed him as a witness demonstrated the rigorous scrutiny which was required.

"We conclude, therefore, that we do not consider that the reliance by the trial judge on the evidence of Burcombe was unsafe, nor did it engender any unease in respect of the conclusions reached."

Burcombe claimed in evidence that he saw Brown repeatedly knife David McIlwaine as he lay on the ground.

In his appeal, Brown also submitted that even if Burcombe's evidence was accepted it did not follow that he should have been convicted of the murder of Andrew Robb.

'Abundant material'

Brown claimed there was no eyewitness evidence of that murder and that there was no direct evidence that he had a knife at the time of the attack.

The Court of Appeal rejected this submission.

The Lord Chief Justice said this was a case where there was abundant material to support the conclusion that Brown was voluntarily present at the scene of the murder.

Burcombe's evidence identified another man - Noel Dillon, who has since killed himself - as being involved with Brown in the murders.

The Lord Chief Justice said: "Brown had driven the car in which the deceased were taken to a remote and isolated spot. Robb was then taken off by Brown and Dillon to a quiet part of the country road where he was the subject of a vicious and savage attack.

"The injuries sustained by Robb reveal the ferocity of the attack. The direct attack was carried out by one or both of Brown and Dillon.

"Both came swaggering back towards the car after the attack at which point Brown launched a vicious attack upon McIlwaine.

"He then encouraged Dillon to cut his throat. Brown then himself further attacked McIlwaine with the knife as he lay on the road and thereafter disposed of the knife."

He added that that Brown and Dillon knew or believed that they were encouraging each other.

While it was not possible to attribute specific actions to either of them, their subsequent behaviour was a clear indicator of their approval of the method of attack on Robb and their intention to kill.

Mr McIlwaine, 18, and Mr Robb, 19, - who had no paramilitary connections - were murdered after Mr Robb allegedly made derogatory remarks about UVF commander Richard Jameson who had been shot dead two weeks previously.

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