Northern Ireland

Son of man murdered by loyalists tells of shock and disappointment after not guilty verdict

Eamon Fox and Gary Convie were shot dead in 1994

Double murder accused James Smyth was found ‘not guilty (Alan Lewis - Photopress Belfast/Photopress Belfast)

The son of man shot dead by the UVF has told of his disappointment after a man accused of the loyalist murder was acquitted.

Kieran Fox was speaking after north Belfast man James Stewart Smyth, known as Jimmy Shades, of Forthriver Link in Belfast, walked free from court on Thursday.

The 58-year-old was also cleared of one count of attempted murder, possession of a firearm and membership of a proscribed organisation, the UVF.

He was accused of the sectarian murders of Eamon Fox (41) and Gary Convie (24), who were gunned down as they ate lunch in a car at a building site at North Queen Street, in north Belfast, in May 1994.

Another man survived the gun attack.

A non-jury trial held last year heard evidence from former Mount Vernon UVF man turned loyalist supergrass Gary Haggarty, who the judge said was a “deeply flawed individual” who had shown he was prepared to lie.

In his judgement Mr Justice O’Hara said it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that Smyth was the gunman.

He added that the only reason the attack took place “was that the men were Catholics”.

James Stewart Smyth found not guilty of the murders of Catholic workmen Eamon Fox and Gary Convie in north Belfast in 1994.
Kieran Fox outside court on Thursday PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Mr Fox’s son Kieran Fox said both families “are disappointed with the outcome”.

Speaking outside the court, he described the verdict as “heart-breaking” and said that the fact nobody had been convicted of his father’s murder was “soul destroying”.

“We thought we had a strong case,” he said.

“It’s a sad day for us.”

Despite his disappointment at the outcome, Mr Fox said other families may not get the opportunity to see a courtroom as a result of the British government’s Legacy Act, which seeks to close down Troubles investigations.

Earlier this week a High Court judge ruled that plans to provide conditional immunity under the legislation are unlawful.

“God help anybody coming behind us, if they get that far,” he said.

“The only thing I can say is, we had our day in court, there is families going to come behind us with this Legacy Act that are not going to get their day, it’s going to be wrapped up, end of.”

Gary Convie (left) and Eamon Fox were shot dead by the UVF in 1994.
Gary Convie (left) and Eamon Fox were shot dead by the UVF in 1994. Gary Convie (left) and Eamon Fox were shot dead by the UVF in 1994.

Mr Fox said the not guilty verdict had come as a “shock”

“It’s one of those ones, its in the back of your head but when you actually hear it for real it comes back on you – he’s not guilty,” he said.

“It will be 30 years now in May from the murders, 27 odd years running back and forward to court then we found out there was collusion involved.

“At the time we just thought they were Catholic workers, working in a Protestant area, like a hard luck story, but when out find out a few years after the killings that the police were involved in this, it was a setup, it’s just hard to take.”

Pádraig Ó Muirigh, of Ó Muirigh Solicitors said he believed that the case highlighted shortcomings in the criminal justice system.

“When you are relying on an assisting offender, a convicted criminal in a notorious UVF unit, that is always going to be highly problematic in a criminal trial,” he said.