Thomas Devlin’s murderers convicted

The murderers of Thomas Devlin were found guilty today. Thomas was a 15 year old schoolboy from Somerton Road in North Belfast. He and two friends were coming back from buying sweets and fizzy drinks during a session of computer gaming. Just before they reached home they were attacked by Nigel Brown, 26, of Whitewell Road and Gary Taylor, 23, from Mountcollyer Avenue. Thomas was stabbed 9 times and died at the scene near his own home whilst one of his friends was also injured.

Thomas’ mother Penny Holloway described him as a “kind and generous, much loved son and brother with a great sense of humour. Thomas could make fun out of doing nothing. On the night that he was killed he was with his friends walking home believing that he was safe – he had no reason to believe otherwise.”
She continued: “Gary Taylor killed Thomas but we still have no idea why and we probably will never know.
“However, what we do know is that Thomas was brutally murdered and he has been deprived of living his life to his full potential.
“Thomas is in our thoughts every day. We all miss him very much and whilst this trial brings his killers to their rightful place in prison, we would much prefer to have Thomas alive.”
Although Mrs. Holloway may have no idea why her son was murdered it remains likely that it was an attack motivated by sectarianism as Thomas was a Catholic, though he was a member of a local Boys Brigade, attended Belfast Royal Academy and had friends from all sections of the community. Thomas had wanted to either study law or computing when he left school.

Prosecuting lawyer, Mr. Toby Hedworth QC told the court that Taylor and Brown’s intentions that night were “crystal clear”, to find “soft targets” after going out together “tooled-up.”

Mr Justice McLaughlin told Belfast Crown Court that Thomas and his friends “were attacked without any reason or provocation whatever.”

Turning to address Taylor directly, the judge said: “It is plain that you Gary Taylor were the principal, you are the killer.”
He told Taylor he could “shake your head all you like, but this county with its democratic system and system for fair trials, has heard all of the evidence, considered all of the facts and has determined your guilt”.
At this stage Taylor shouted: “Suspicion does not prove guilt”.
However, ignoring the outburst, Mr Justice McLaughlin told him: “You thought you had got away with it, but you have been convicted and you will pay a heavy price for what you did on the Somerton Road.
“You will go to prison for life. And you will have a tariff fixed. It will be a very lengthy tariff you can be sure,”
warned the judge.
Turning to Brown, the judge told him he had played a “secondary” role.
Jailing him for life, he added that his “conviction demonstrates that those who engage in violence willingly must take full responsibility, not just for what they do themselves, but for the actions of others that they go about with and with whom they act in concert.”

Mrs Holloway mounted a tireless campaign to bring her son’s murderers to justice.

A year into the murder investigation, police revealed they had taken more than 900 statements and searched more than 60 properties, but still did not have enough evidence to charge anyone with the murder.

In total, detectives arrested nine people, one of whom was former UVF killer and high profile PUP politician Billy Hutchinson, who was detained on suspicion of withholding information about the murder in 2007.
His arrest sparked a loyalist protest outside Antrim police station, where demonstrators accused the PSNI of “political policing”.
He was released without charge.
Two months earlier, Mr Hutchinson had accused Ms Holloway of “demonising” the Mount Vernon community, referring to the loyalist estate near the scene of the murder, where one of the suspects lived.
His comments came after Thomas’ parents wrote to the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to protest against a 4,000 euros grant which the Irish government had awarded to the Mount Vernon Community Development Forum, of which Mr Hutchinson was a member.

Although critical of the PPS, Mrs. Holloway said the police had worked hard on the murder investigation, and claimed that detectives were also unhappy with the PPS’ direction in the case.

Though quite late this conviction demonstrates that murderers can be convicted in spite of significant difficulties. However, although one high profile murder has been successfully prosecuted there remain more from relatively recently such as Lisa Dorrian and Robert McCartney (and Paul Quinn just across the border) as well as many others from the more distant past. Their relatives are still denied justice and their murderers still await their just punishment. We can simply hope (though with little confidence) that this is the first in a series of convictions in murder cases here in Northern Ireland.

  • Harry J

    wonder how long before there will be anotehr TUV petition to get these loyalist killers released from jail

  • joeCanuck

    Well said, Turgon.

    One little point, Paul Quinn was murdered just across the border but it seems obvious that a crime of conspiracy to murder was committed in N.I. I’m amazed that neither police service has been able to mount a prosecution.

  • Alias

    I’m glad they finally got justice after an epic and gruelling battle to secure it. Hopefully Mr Justice McLaughlin won’t impose a derisory sentence.

  • Brian Walker

    Deeply tragic but a satisfactory outcome at last, hopefully presaging further successes in the courts.

  • joeCanuck

    Alias, from the BBC report, the Jjudge said “”You will go to prison for life. And you will have a tariff fixed. It will be a very lengthy tariff you can be sure,” warned the judge.

  • alan56

    Well done to Thomas’ parents. They deserve great credit. I hope they have found some peace of mind.

  • socaire

    I would be among the first to condemn the PSNI. Let me congratulate them here for a sustained effort.

  • riverlagan

    This case was very similar to a one a few years back, a fellow was murdered by two youths, because they thought he was a Roman Catholic – who had been walking along the Clifton Street area of the City.

    Turned out the victim was a Protestant from East Belfast.

  • alan56

    Public Prosecution Service should have some questions to answer here?

  • cynic47

    Two very dangerous people off our streets. The more the merrier. May Thomas rest in peace and may his family experience some relief that the case has ended as it did. Well done the jury.

  • Framer

    Why would the Public Prosecution Service not mount a case in the beginning and what made them change their mind?

  • Belfast Gonzo

    It was a fairly unusual case legally. The jury was allowed to listen to hearsay evidence, and I think previous convictions of the defendants were also mentioned. Most of the regular evidence was circumstantial, and the issue of joint enterprise is controversial.

    There must be at least some reasonable chance of a successful appeal against conviction. Which is sickening to contemplate.

  • iluvni

    What big brave lads they were attacking inncoent kids walking home with their sweets.

    Any word from the PUP on the verdicts?

  • USA

    Good post Turgon.

  • bohereen

    Very little direct evidence. Expect appeal.
    To divorce oneself from the emotions here, how will the public and the chattering classes feel about the legal team who mount the appeal?
    The previous convictions being presented to the jury is puzzling. Some of the police evidence was laughable, something about seeing one of them throwing a firework a few days/weeks previously.

    Interesting to hear someone advocating a 50/50 chance of conviction as a basis for prosecution. Can’t see anyone buying that idea.
    Also, shame on Alban Maginess (sp?) for using the conviction to get his oar in for the P&J job.

  • Comrade Stalin

    A couple of points :

    – this was a sectarian murder. There are no two ways about it. They went out with a knife to an area where they expected to find a victim who was Catholic.

    – Our public prosecution service isn’t fit for purpose. It’s not the first time this has become apparent, and we need an immediate enquiry into the effectiveness and competency of the organization.

  • jtwo

    Oooh these are always my fav slugger threads where people unencumbered by any knowledge of the law, beyond what they’ve seen on the odd cop show, nonetheless give us the benefit of their learned opinion.

  • jfcb

    The Devlins had an uphill struggle against the PPS- but thanks to there tireless struggle – we the people of North Belfast have two mindless vicious child murdering thugs removed from our streets – I thank them greatly for this.
    Mount Vernon has sectarian killers painted large on there very walls promoting fear & violence – these violent sinister images do no good as role models to the youth of Mount Vernon & the Shore road .

  • slappymcgroundout

    “Oooh these are always my fav slugger threads where people unencumbered by any knowledge of the law…”

    Speaking of people unencumbered by any knowledge of the law, does anyone have a link to the applicable rules of evidence (assuming you all have such a thing)? Thanks.

    Re the notion of “joint enterprise”, the one case, and please forgive or indulge me if this isn’t the way you all would title the action, but in the matter of Rahman v. Crown, EWCA Crim 342 (2007) [the long instruction on JE is at item 9]:

    Note that the convictions were affirmed.

    As a last note, never an exciting prospect when you’ve already pled guilty to assaulting the one other soul who was there at the time (who was beaten with an object and stabbed)(when the other soul there at the time was himself beaten and stabbed, or so will report the medical examiner, it isn’t looking good, at least under the instruction(s) and facts and analysis in Rahman.

    Almost forgot, but the one other defendant, the one who didn’t plead guilty to assaulting the other fellow, claimed that he was not there at the time but instead was out smoking dope with some “friends”. All I could find online was the repeated statement that the “friends” were unwilling to make a statement. Which brings me to more of the unencumbered by knowledge of the law, and so, do you all have the practice of immunity? In other words, if you have immunity practice, your prosecutor would have offered immunity to the “friends”, such would have sufficed to protect them from compelled disclosure, and so they’d give a statement at some point or else be found in contempt and incarcerated until they decided to talk. I ask, because without immunity, the dope smoking friends are going to take the 5th, as we call it, lest they be tried on drug-related offenses, with the best evidence of all, the admission that thye did indeed commit the crime. If you don’t have immunity practice, I would suggest that you adopt the same, lest the innocent go to jail because his dope smoking friends won’t testify in his favor owing to their fear of being brought up on drug-related charges. I’m not saying that the one soul is innocent, but the prosecutor’s duty is to seek justice and not merely to convict (this isn’t a sport of win-loss), and given the alibi defense in question here and the apparent refusal to provide a statement, immunity for the persons identified as fellow dope smokers was the way to go.

    Oh, there are two kinds of immunity, use immunity and transactional immunity. I have always believed that only transactional immunity protects one’s interest in not being compelled to be witness against self (it is a dangerous game we play with use immunity, since one can always claim that but for my statement, the police would not have discovered items of evidence a, b, c, and d, i.e., they don’t use your statement, but the evidence they found by following up your statement; such leads us into the never never land of trying to determine whether the challenged evidence would have been found even without the statement and since we all make errors and so have pencils with erasers…)(whenever possible the law, especially the criminal law, should favor error reducing practice, and especially when the matter concerns us claiming to have a procedure that serves to obviate a valid claim of the privilege against self-incrimination).

  • Spotty Muldoon

    “17.Oooh these are always my fav slugger threads where people unencumbered by any knowledge of the law” Fair point. But Ms Holloway is surely fairly encumbered by now and is calling for wholesale reform of the PPS. What say you to that?

  • jtwo

    I say she knows a shit load more about the operation of the PPS than slugger’s crack team of saloon bar advocates.

  • Fabianus

    Can somebody please remind me why they believe P&J should be devolved to NI? If it hadn’t been for English intervention then justice might never have been done.