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Man not guilty of murders of two Catholic workmen in 1994

A man has been found not guilty of the UVF murders of Catholic workmen Eamon Fox and Gary Convie in north Belfast in 1994.

James Stewart Smyth, 58, of Forthriver Link in Belfast, was also cleared of one count of attempted murder, possession of a firearm and membership of a proscribed organisation, the UVF.

Mr Convie and Mr Fox were sitting in a parked car at a building site when they were shot dead by a gunman standing in an adjacent playground beside North Queen Street in May 1994.

Delivering his judgment in the non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice O’Hara said it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that Smyth was the gunman.

The main prosecution witness in the case was UVF man turned loyalist supergrass Gary Haggarty.

Gary Haggarty was described by the judge as a ‘deeply flawed individual’

Haggarty was handed a reduced prison sentence after admitting more than 500 terror crimes, including five murders, but he was released from prison in 2018 only four months into the six-and-a-half year term, for providing information about other terrorist suspects.

Beginning his judgment, the judge told the court: “The only reason this attack took place was that the men were Catholics.

“In the eyes of the UVF, that was enough to make them targets, and easy targets.”

He said the sole issue to be considered in the case was whether it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt that Smyth had been the gunman who shot Mr Convie and Mr Fox.

However, the judge said he had doubts about DNA evidence presented by the prosecution.

Turning to bad character evidence, the judge pointed out that Smyth had a previous conviction for murder.

He said this showed he was “happy to murder Catholics for being Catholics”.

Dealing with the evidence given by Haggarty, the judge said he was a “deeply flawed individual” who had shown he was prepared to lie.

He also said he had difficulty in reconciling some of Haggarty’s evidence with independent evidence.

The judge also said that a number of eyewitnesses had described the gunman as being between 5’8″ to 5′ 10″ in height, while Smyth is 5’4″ tall.

Mr Justice O’Hara said he could not be satisfied that Smyth was the gunman and found him not guilty.

However, he said that Smyth did not leave the court without a stain on his character, having been previously convicted of murder.

Families ‘devastated’ by verdict

Speaking outside court, Eamon Fox’s son Kieran was asked if the family’s last chance of getting justice had passed.

He said: “As far as the criminal side goes, yes I think it is.

“We are looking at other possibilities because this is just the tip of an iceberg.”

He added: “We thought we had a strong case but the threshold to get a conviction in these courts (is so high).

“It is heartbreaking. It’s a sad day for us.”

Kieran Fox (4th from Left) outside Belfast Crown Court with family members and legal representative Padraig O Muirigh (2nd L) as he gives reaction to the verdict

Lawyer for the Convie and Fox families, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, said the case had demonstrated deficiencies in the criminal justice system,

He said: “The Convie and Fox families are devastated by today’s verdict.

“It has been a long journey for them and a very disappointing end to that.

“The judge identified considerable lacunas in the prosecution case.

“I think this case highlights the deficiencies in the criminal justice system dealing with matters like this

“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 added: “There needs to be another process where these issues, which are of huge public concern, are publicly ventilated in a proper forum.”

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