Northern Ireland

Frank Newell, 73, wins 40-year fight to clear name

Image caption A panel of three senior judges quashed Frank Newell's conviction in Belfast on Monday

A former taxi driver who was jailed for the armed robbery of a post office has won a 40-year battle to clear his name.

Senior judges quashed Frank Newell's conviction based on the non-disclosure of crucial material that undermined the prosecution case.

Mr Newell was originally sentenced to four years in prison for the robbery in Lisburn, County Antrim, in August 1973.

Mr Newell, 73, from Shankill Road, Belfast, had his jail term doubled when a first appeal was thrown out.

But he continued to protest his innocence, insisting that his car was hijacked by the thieves who took £3,000 in the robbery which was linked to loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal after being studied by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, a body which examines potential miscarriages of justice.

In court in Belfast on Monday, defence lawyers argued that police and the prosecution failed to disclose three categories of information during the non-jury trial.

These included:

  • Details of an alibi statement from colleagues placing Mr Newell at his taxi depot on the day of the robbery
  • Discrepancies in witness identification statements
  • Police intelligence pointing to both his innocence and to the real culprits having connections to the UVF.

The court heard that Mr Newell had been scared to name those who hijacked his car because of the consequences for him and his family. His barrister pointed to evidence dating to the 1970s that showed high-ranking police officers believed Mr Newell was innocent.

"You have significant body within the RUC and beyond expressing concern about the safety of the conviction, but nobody seems to take the next step," she told the court.

Urging the three-judge panel to quash the conviction, she insisted: "Mr Newell has been an unfortunate victim of a miscarriage of justice and spent four years in custody.

"It has caused him great stress and anxiety, even still."

At one stage in the hearing Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "It does appear that there are periods when there was a disconnect between the investigative criminal justice branch of the police and the intelligence side of the police."

The panel of three judges allowed the appeal. Full written reasons will be given at a later stage.

Mr Newell, who was in court with his wife Myrtle and their three children, hugged his lawyers after the decision was announced.

"I feel great that this is all over and I have been declared an innocent man," he said.

His daughter, Franchine Young, said: "We are absolutely delighted. This has been a long time coming, it's been a stigma hanging over us."

She said the family's battle to have the conviction overturned involved lobbying and campaigning government representatives.

Human rights group, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), also fought to get the case heard.

CAJ representative Gemma McKeown said: "We're delighted our client's conviction has been quashed, and question why the prosecution was taken at the time."