Visits to witnesses “were expressions of the general unease in the local community”..

The Sinn Féin party member, and husband of a SF councillor, Vincent McAnespie who had been arrested and charged, along with Independent republican candidate Gerry McGeough, with the attempted murder of a part-time UDR member in 1981 has been released on bail of £5000 and two sureties of the same amount after the High Court was told that two witnesses had withdrawn their statements – described as the main plank of the prosecution case by the Crown lawyer. He has also surrendered his passport, must report daily to police and was ordered not to have any contact with witnesses or with the UDR man who survived the PIRA ambush in 1981. But his defence lawyer had some other information to impart

A defence lawyer said the two witnesses had made it clear that their withdrawal was not driven by “fear or intimidation”.

He said visits to them, including one by the parish priest, were expressions of the general unease in the local community at the vintage of the offences and the manner in which McAnespie was arrested.

Updated belowUpdate The Irish News today has a report which has direct quotes from the proceedings in court yesterday [subs req],

There’s some clarification of what the defence lawyer, Des Fahy, said

Des Fahy, defending, said Mr McAnespie denied any involvement in the offences and had no part in approaches to the two witnesses.

“It is my understanding the two witnesses have spoken with their parish preist and solicitor and have made it clear that they were not motivated or driven by fear or intimidation in the withdrawal of the statements,” he said.

Whilst from prosecuting lawyer, David Reid

He said two witness were recently revisited by police and made statements but within two days other people came to see them on four separate occasions and, while no open threat was made, they were left in no doubt that they were to withdraw their statements.

“The threat was implied and the elderly witnesses were left in a very frightened state,” Mr Reid said.

“Later one of them was out shopping and was called a traitor.”

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  • Token Dissent

    I find it disgusting that any community representative should approach witnesses in this way. These visits can only be interrupted as attempts to put pressure on vital witnesses to withdraw their testimonies.

    I wonder if the priest or these other upstanding members of the community also conveyed their sympathies and “general unease” to the local man who was shot.

  • Commentator

    Of course it wasn´t fear or intimidation – that would breach a committment to fully support law and order – it was just an expression of concern, that´s all. Simple really. But surely the accused must himself encourage the witnesses to come forward so there can be a really fair and open trial.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    A squalid affair and a measure of how far some in the PSNI still have to travel in order to get up to the mark on a new beginning to policing.

  • Harry

    So the shinner has been released but the fella who really isn’t toeing the line remains locked up, is that it? And I suppose that Michael Stone will be released within 6-12 months under ‘psychiatric monitoring’ after his stunt served its purpose of distracting people from a un-met deadline, just as agreed with his handlers?

  • Come on, we all know that Michael Stone’s antics were merely Public Art meets FlashMob sort of thing. Just a bit of fun, like, in a Norn Irish kind of way. 🙂

  • Come on, we all know that Michael Stone’s antics were merely Public Art meets FlashMob sort of thing. Just a bit of fun, like, in a Norn Irish kind of way. 🙂

  • picador

    Harry,

    Given Gerry McGeogh’s right-wing Catholic leanings I would have thought that the priest was trying to assist him.

    Has he applied for bail yet?

  • circles

    Any chance of Mick coming back in the foreseeable future – I mean the themes on this site are starting to get a little chronic.
    Just waiting for the Punch caricature making a come back – any chance Pete of a pic of the new SF president Darby O’Gill?

  • Shore Road Resident

    What are the prosecution witnesses doing issuing statements through the defence?

  • confused

    I smell a rat and it is very unpleasant.
    Justice will be denied.
    Some work behind the scenes to prevent a trial.

  • blogrus

    I find it incredible that witnesses should be placed in such an awful position that they become more news than the alleged perpetrators. I am appalled at the total lack of nous by a local priest in publicly talking to the witnesses. This brings the Catholic church needlessly into the arena where paranoia creates the opportunity for the nastiest of interpretations.

    I would have naively assumed that witnesses’ identities remain protected until absolutely necessary.

    I would suggest that the whole sordid affair be investigated by the courts to assess if justice is being served. For example, since when did the solicitor acting on behalf of the accused (defence) release statements from the witnesses for the prosecution.

    Just how many people are even aware of all this? I would be very interested in everyone’s views on this, especially if I am misinterpreting something.

  • Cato

    I think this interference by a Catholic priest in a criminal trial is ill-judged and raises questions about whether this is because of Mr McGeough’s right-wing Catholicism.
    If it is, it’s another example, following those demonstrated within the paedophilia saga, of the Catholic Church putting its own interests before those of the law.

  • ash

    Pat maclarnon needs to ask himself if macanespie was charged with the attempted murder of his parents would he be so content to see people interferring with the course of justice in this way. let the court decide on the basis of evidence given free from any interference or “home visits”

  • Henry94

    It is open to the PSNI to charge the Priest or whoever with interfering with with the witnesses.

    If they decline to do so then we might wonder about the value of the witnesses statements in the first place and the manner in which they were obtained.

    If the witness evidence is gone and there is no other evidence then the charges will be dropped which will, let’s be honest, be no surprise to anyone.

  • Henry94

    Gerry McGeough will be up for his bail hearing on Friday, March 23rd.

  • k

    The whole thing is a sham from start to finish. MeGeough was living openly in the North for years yet these new eyewitnesses only emerge now?
    Anyone who believes that the timing of his arrest, the day after the election is a coincidence is living in cloud cuckoo land. It’s not justice, it’s pure politics.

  • east tyrone remembers

    Gerry is going for bail on Friday so it will be interesting to see if he gets it. By the way the last time these 2 made statements was in 1995 and the statements exonerated the 2 boys….

  • Sean

    I think this interference by a Catholic priest in a criminal trial is ill-judged and raises questions about whether this is because of Mr McGeough’s right-wing Catholicism.
    If it is, it’s another example, following those demonstrated within the paedophilia saga, of the Catholic Church putting its own interests before those of the law.

    Posted by Cato on Mar 21, 2007 @ 09:39 PM

    So Cato you were privy to the conversations that the priest had? Maybe you could enlightien us by quoting his interference verbatim?

  • willowfield

    K

    Anyone who believes that the timing of his arrest, the day after the election is a coincidence is living in cloud cuckoo land. It’s not justice, it’s pure politics.

    So what are you saying was the significance of the timing?

  • Comrade Stalin

    So Cato you were privy to the conversations that the priest had? Maybe you could enlightien us by quoting his interference verbatim?

    Sean, what do you think the priest had to say ? A reasonable person is allowed to speculate… or do you think he just heard a confession ?

    Priests have no business getting involved in legal cases like this. I’m tired of the church using their influence in this way, and I hope the priest gets done for interfering with witnesses.

  • Comrade Stalin

    He said visits to them, including one by the parish priest, were expressions of the general unease in the local community at the vintage of the offences and the manner in which McAnespie was arrested.

    This is some sort of sick joke. The Bloody Sunday murders in Derry occurred almost a full decade before these. Should they be ignored due to their vintage ? No. This argument is nonsense.

    Republicans need to make up their minds whether they want the past investigated or not.

  • Henry94

    CS

    Should Fr. Ried have stayed out of the peace process? Should Fr. Faul not have stopped the Hunger Strikes? Priests are part of the community and they are constantly asked to get involved in issues.

    They have to make a judgement in the circumstances and none of us here know what the circumstances of this case are. As soon as the charges are dropped I think it should be a matter for the Ombudsman to see what the hell was going on.

    My automatic instinct is to suspect the PSNI but I don’t have enough of a basis to suggest what if anything they have done that is dodgy. But it smells dodgy.

    Likewise nobody has enough information to blame the Priest who we know nothing at all about.

    We can agree that we need the facts to come out.

  • Token Diisent

    Of course the timing of the arrest “was political”. If Gerry (homophobe, bigot) McGeough had been arrested a day or two earlier his vote would have went up and the Shinners would have lost a seat. So (not for the first time) SF should be grateful for political policing. Bloody secruocrats.

    As for Henry and Sean’s pleas that we don’t know what the priest and others had to say – just read the reported comments from the defence lawyer and it is clear that they weren’t exactly encouraging them to stand firm against community pressure to stay quiet.

  • Henry94

    TD

    In most places being arrested for attempted murder two days before an election would be considered a negative at the polls.

    That you are probably right to say it would have boosted McGeogh (but hardly from 800 odd to a quota) is a reminder that we are not in a normal situation.

    I think we should keep an open mind on the case until all the facts come out. I would be interested in hearing what the Priest has to say, what was in the original statements and why they were withdrawn. Indeed how were they obtained in the first place.

  • Spinster

    The place to test witness statements is a courtroom.

    Perverting the course of justice anyone?

  • Commentator

    Let´s look at the facts.

    Two people are charged with a serious crime. Yes it happened long ago but we have spent hundreds of millions on an enquiry into one that was much older and many of you havent complained about that, have you.

    Key witnesses are approached by a ¨concerned community¨ and decide to withdraw vital evidence. The defence lawyer for the accused says that the witnesses say were not intimidated. Thats not surprising because if they had been intimidated the police could have asked for the statements to be used in the trial anyway despite the withdrawal.

    The phrase about the ¨concerned community¨has strong echoes of the justification used in the past to exile many people from Irleand because of alleged anti-social behaviour or their faces / politics didnt fit.

    And oh what a lot of wriggling there is on this thread. Its all very simple

    1 we have an agreement on a constitutional compromise

    2 part of that is a committment by all sides to the rule of law and judicial process

    3 if any group doesnt support all of this it all starts to unravel again

    Paranoia and hypocracy wont change the basics. If you want people suspected of crimes long ago to not be arrested when there is evidence then you need to negotiate a deal on closure of the last 40 years of history. The Unionists dont want that and the Republicans are too busy trying to milk it for political advantage to even try.

  • Henry94

    Concerned

    We can’t look at the facts when we don’t have them. There are huge gaps in this story and can all fill them in according to our preconceptions. But that doesn’t make them facts.

    If a Catholic Priest was issuing threats to witnesses as you appear to believe then that is a very serious issue indeed. If there is evidence to support that then he should be cahrged. If there is not then we shouldn’t be claiming he did.

  • Comrade Stalin

    If a Catholic Priest was issuing threats to witnesses as you appear to believe then that is a very serious issue indeed. If there is evidence to support that then he should be cahrged. If there is not then we shouldn’t be claiming he did.

    Henry, I don’t think that the priest made the threat; rather I think that someone else made the threat and asked the priest to deliver it. If it wasn’t a threat, then what else could he have said that would have caused people to withdraw their statements ?

    The same thing happened in Ardoyne a few weeks ago when Fr. Troy was asked by dissident republicans to tell a few hoods in the area that they were going to be shot. Troy refused to co-operate, but I wonder if other priests would behave in the same way.

  • Henry94

    CS

    I think that someone else made the threat and asked the priest to deliver it.

    Interesting theory. Is there a police investigation? If not, why not?

    I don’t see why the IRA (if that is who you mean) would put everything they have worked for in jeopardy over a case where the people involved would qualify for release under the Agreement.

    That simply doesn’t add up for me but I am trying to keep an open mind.

  • nmc

    I attended catholic schools, one of which (garron tower) was run by priests. I have known many priests, and while I have decided religion is not for me I can’t say I’ve ever met one who would “deliver” a threat.

    They’re generally not bad people, hard to believe for some granted. Imagine your local vicar/rev and picture him delivering a threat. Doesn’t seem likely, does it? Priests are kind of like that generally, good intentioned types obsessed with God.

  • Cato

    Sean

    He said visits to them, including one by the parish priest, were expressions of the general unease in the local community at the vintage of the offences and the manner in which McAnespie was arrested.

    There’s no place for a priest acting as a go-between in this way. While I am not privvy to the precise details of the conversation, I know that it is at best a foolish misappropriation of responsibility and at worst a sinister politically-motivated interference.
    On a more general point, there are far too many Catholic priests in Northern Ireland who are openly Irish nationalists and republicans and preach thus from the altar.
    They should keep their political opinions to themselves and stick to preaching the word of God rather than the word of Gerry.

  • Henry94

    Cato

    On a more general point, there are far too many Catholic priests in Northern Ireland who are openly Irish nationalists and republicans and preach thus from the altar.

    We will have a Rev. Paisley as First Minister next week. So if you want to have a cut at political preachers you could well take a cross-community approach.

    Having said that my experience of political sermons has been that were straight out of the SDLP hymn sheet.

  • Cromwell

    Well said Cato, but theres a lot of flim-flam from the usual suspects above you.
    The whole thing stinks to high heaven & shows the contempt for justice, when it doesnt suit them, of the republican community.
    That priest needs to explain his actions & the solicitor needs to be brought to book as well.

  • Cato

    Henry94

    I was actually brought up a Catholic and that is why I directed my comments thus. It is up to people on the other side of the divided community to judge their own religious/political figures.

  • Token Dissent

    As Henry suggests Cato’s comments also apply to Prod ministers. Putting Paisley and the FPs to one side, consider the role of the main denominations. It would be below a man of the church to get directly involved in perverting the course of justice, or publicly supporting sectarian discrimination, but in Northen Ireland ministers of the churches have often acted to give implicit support and ‘respectability’ to these ugly features of our society.

    A good example of this is the silence of the majority Presbytrian/Church of Ireland ministers in areas where obvious discrimination happened from 1920s-1960s. Rev John Dunlop’s “Precarious Belonging” has a brave attempt to face up to these issues.

    Overall in Ireland too often the churches have placed the unity of ‘their community’ above the common good.

  • Pete Baker

    There’s an update to the post, with some clarifying quotes.

  • Sean

    Sean, what do you think the priest had to say ? A reasonable person is allowed to speculate… or do you think he just heard a confession

    Presumably these men are catholics and as such perhaps they asked for a visit by the parish priest

    It has been known to happen

  • willowfield

    I ask again: what are people suggesting was the significance of the timing of the arrests?

  • Henry94

    “It is my understanding the two witnesses have spoken with their parish preist and solicitor and have made it clear that they were not motivated or driven by fear or intimidation in the withdrawal of the statements,”

    That does clarify. It looks like the witnesses approached the Priest and a Solicitor. Not the other way around and after they decided to withdraw their statements.

  • Token Dissent

    Henry that is a great example of selective reading!

    Firstly, from the quote you select it isn’t clear who went to visit who, if that even matters. Secondly for arguments sake if you did feel intimidated you wouldn’t be likely to shout it from the rooftops!

    Then you totally ignored the second quotes from the crown’s lawyer.

  • Henry94

    TD

    Firstly, from the quote you select it isn’t clear who went to visit who

    That is in itself a rowback from the suggestion that the Priest was delivering threats. I assume the Solicitor wasn’t issuing threats and he has the same status as the priest in the relevant sentence. I think my reading is a fair one. If the sentence is inaccurate then I’m sure that weill emerge.

    Then you totally ignored the second quotes from the crown’s lawyer

    What the Crown claims is of no account. If they can’t prove it, it has no meaning. Let them make a case if they wish.

  • Token Dissent

    I feel petty for continuing this argument… but

    No-one is suggesting that the priest and the solicitor were directly issuing “threats”. My 12.23 post makes that point.

    Instead they appear to have been letting the witnesses know that it wouldn’t be in the community’s, or their best interests for this evidence to be heard in court. This in itself is simply wrong.

    As you say it is up to the crown to prove a case. It is a shame everyone in a position of influence doesn’t hold a fair and informed trial as the priority.

  • Henry94

    TD

    I feel petty for continuing this argument… but

    So do I because we need more details. Maybe on Friday when McGeough is bailed we’ll learn more.

    But I think you are making assumptions that are unsupported by the facts as we know them (not that we know very much but it’s all we have to go on)

    No-one is suggesting that the priest and the solicitor were directly issuing “threats

    That is very strongly suggested by some posters above.

    Instead they appear to have been letting the witnesses know that it wouldn’t be in the community’s, or their best interests for this evidence to be heard in court.

    We don’t have a basis for claiming that. All we know is that they spoke and it is very probable that they sopke at the request of the wintnesses after they decided to withdraw their statements.

  • Dec

    In light of the Irish News publishing the actual words of the defence solicitor, it is clear that the witnesses spoke with their parish priest and solicitor after visits (by persons unknown) which ‘were expressions of the general unease in the local community at the vintage of the offences and the manner in which McAnespie was arrested.’
    What is even clearer is that the repuation of a priest and a solicitor have been sullied on this site due to some piss-poor court reporting.

  • BogExile

    Henry’s 94:

    1. ‘you are making assumptions that are unsupported by the facts as we know them.’

    later in same post:

    2. ‘It is very probable that they sopke at the request of the wintnesses after they decided to withdraw their statements.’

    Another great example of ‘Shinn-speak’: We don’t know the facts so we shouldn’t comment. But, by the way, here is the truth in advance.

    Turbulent priests (and Pastors) have an awful lot to answer for in our little local difficulty. A period of silence on their part would be welcome.

  • Harry

    Henry94: Gerry McGeough will be up for his bail hearing on Friday, March 23rd.

    Anyone know what happened to McGeough? Did he get bail?