Northern Ireland

Man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter of couple abducted by IRA should not be allowed to change his decision decades later, Court of Appeal hears

File photo dated 07/11/2022 of the crest of the Royal Courts of Justice where the High Court and the Court of Appeal sit in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Court of Appeal in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

A man who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of a husband and wife abducted by the IRA should not be allowed to “unravel” his decision decades later, the Court of Appeal heard on Tuesday.

Paul Pius Duffy is seeking to overturn his conviction for involvement in events surrounding the killings of Gerard and Catherine Mahon in Belfast back in September 1985.

The 65-year-old claims RUC officers coerced him into making unreliable confessions during exhausting interrogation sessions at the city’s Castlereagh Holding Centre.

His lawyer likened the process carried out over 30 interviews to a form of psychological torture.

But senior Crown barrister Ciaran Murphy KC argued it would be wrong to reopen a trial process after so many years in circumstances where the offences were ultimately admitted.

“The suggestion that one can properly, accurately and fairly unravel a decision to plead guilty, voluntarily made, is virtually impossible (to sustain),” he said.

Mr Mahon, 28, and his 27-year-old wife were taken from their Twinbrook home in west Belfast on suspicion of being police informers.

They were interrogated by the IRA at an address in the Turf Lodge area and then both shot dead.

Duffy was allegedly involved in transporting them to the location in a taxi.

In 1993 he received a 10-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter and related terrorist offences.

It followed a lengthy trial process where the admissibility of confessions made in police custody came under judicial scrutiny.

His legal team are now challenging the safety of the conviction based on newly obtained opinions from experts in linguistics and psychology on the admissions made during his detention and questioning.

Senior judges were told he was allegedly threatened and pressured into a state of mental distress and exhaustion.

Based on the expert reports, Mark Mulholland KC, for Duffy, contended that he had been in a state of “cognitive deficiency” because of the prolonged police interviews.

“Whether you apply today’s standards or the standards that applied back in 1993, if there is reasonable doubt about the reliability of the confessions they fall to be excluded,” Mr Mulholland submitted.

“This man may not have appreciated the form of psychological torture because of the manner in which it was conducted… but it’s a subtle pressure.”

However, Mr Murphy stressed there were no allegations that Duffy had been beaten during his questioning.

He also told the court experienced criminal defence lawyers would have provided advice before the offer to plead guilty to manslaughter was made.

“It’s a fundamental part of the criminal justice system where decisions are made and one can’t come back to change them decades later,” counsel added.

“If that was the case every conviction could potentially start to fall apart.”

Reserving judgment following the two-day appeal hearing, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan pledged to give a ruling as soon as possible.