Northern Ireland

Downpatrick women have 1987 convictions for imprisoning man quashed

The Court of Appeal quashed the verdicts against Mary Clinton and Bernadette Armstrong
The Court of Appeal quashed the verdicts against Mary Clinton and Bernadette Armstrong

TWO women convicted of falsely imprisoning a man, in a case involving a suspected British agent, have won a 30-year battle to clear their names.

Judges in the Court of Appeal quashed the guilty verdicts against Mary Clinton and Bernadette Armstrong after being told the alleged victim wanted money to identify others.

With his reliability in question, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: "In all the circumstances we have an unease about the safety of the convictions."

Mrs Clinton and Mrs Armstrong have always protested their innocence over events at a house in Rathbeg Close, Downpatrick in 1987.

The alleged victim was taken from the house and shot for being a suspected informer, according to papers in the case.

Sandy Lynch, a republican later named as a state agent, was said to be involved.

Both women maintained the man left the house by his own free will, insisting they were unaware of any false imprisonment.

Bernadette Armstrong, a single mother of young children, pleaded guilty to the charge after being told she would be sent to jail if she contested the allegations, it was claimed.

She received a two-year suspended sentence.

Mary Clinton fought the case at a non-jury trial and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Their lawyers based their appeal on the failure to reveal the involvement of a state agent.

They argued that the non-disclosure rendered the convictions unsafe.

Reference was also made to the quashing of convictions against former Sinn Féin director of publicity Danny Morrison and others for the unlawful imprisonment of Lynch in 1990.

It was contended that the two cases have striking similarities, with both involving the failure to disclose an informer's role in an alleged crime classed as entrapment.

Counsel for the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed it was not opposing the two women's appeals.

Gerard Simpson QC also raised serious issues about the reliability of evidence from the alleged victim, telling the court he would only identify others if he was paid money.

That man is now understood to be living at a secret location outside Northern Ireland.

Sir Declan then confirmed: "We are content to allow the appeals and set the convictions aside."

Both women left court without comment, but their solicitor insisted they should never have been found guilty in the first place.

Gavin Booth of KRW Law claimed: "This was nothing but a malicious prosecution.

"The refusal to arrest Sandy Lynch served a wider purpose, to protect a state agent in order to set up other innocent victims.

"We've seen this already in the case of Danny Morrison and others."

Welcoming the position taken by the PPS position in the appeal, he added: "There are more people out there with these unsafe convictions based on the role of agents."