Suspect cleared in McCartney murder trial

A man was cleared today of murdering Robert McCartney, who was beaten and stabbed to death outside a Belfast bar in an attack blamed on IRA members.

A man was cleared today of murdering Robert McCartney, who was beaten and stabbed to death outside a Belfast bar in an attack blamed on IRA members.

Father-of-two Mr McCartney (aged 33) from east Belfast's nationalist Short Strand, was attacked on the night of January 30, 2005 after getting caught up in a row.

His friend Brendan Devine was also stabbed, but survived.

Terence Davison (aged 51) from Belfast, was cleared of the murder this morning at Belfast Crown Court.

The judge, Mr Justice John Gillen acquitted Davison of the murder charge and two further counts of affray.

Co-accused James McCormick (aged 39) and Joseph Fitzpatrick (aged 47) were also found not guilty of affray.

Fitzpatrick was acquitted on a further charge of assault.

The judge said at the end of his 74-page judgment: "I recognise that the family of Mr McCartney and others who held him dear will be frustrated and disappointed that whoever it was who cut this young man down in the prime of his life has or have not been brought to justice."

The judge, who sat without a jury, continued: "However, the memory of Mr McCartney and the rule of law itself would be ill-served by this court failing to observe the high standards of criminal justice and the burden of proof which prevail in courts in Northern Ireland."

He went on: "The law is not a feather for every wind that blows and the need to ensure that defendants are found guilty only if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt cannot be sacrificed to genuine and justifiable public concern that miscreants should be brought to justice."

The judge warned the three acquitted men that they could yet be brought back to court if more evidence emerges.

He said: "I have no doubt that the investigation into this crime will continue and if new evidence emerges in connection with this murder no one, including for that matter even the accused in this trial, will be beyond the reach of potential prosecution."

Delivering the judgment, the judge went in detail through the 19 days of evidence he heard about the events on January 30, 2005, which started with an argument in the bar and ended up with Robert McCartney stabbed to death in the street a short distance away.

None of the defendants entered the witness box during the trial and the judge ignored a suggestion from the Crown that he should draw adverse implications from that.

Much of the evidence against Davison and his co-accused centred on that of a woman known only as Witness C during the trial.

The judge said that she was "transparently honest" and courageous to give evidence but he said he found flaws in that evidence and was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that she had seen what she believed she had seen.

The judge said he was troubled by some aspects of Witness C's evidence, including the fact that she never saw a knife used.

"I considered that it is not without significance that the witness admits in her deposition facing the miscreant from only five feet - his right arm was closest to her - and yet still no weapon is observed."

She was driving in her car in Cromac Square in the city when she saw the attack.

The judge said irregularities in how the "sweeping movement" which she described would have landed raised further questions.

"Once again it is not impossible to imagine a scenario where either the witness in the heat of the moment is wrong about the number of swipes or for some reason the miscreant missed with some of the blows," he added.

"Nonetheless it is yet another troubling absence which adds to the gathering unease I harbour about this evidence."

He highlighted further disparities in the evidence, including the length of the attacker's hair as described by Witness C and the clothing which she said he was wearing, which was contradicted by CCTV footage.

Mr McCartney's five sisters previously travelled to Washington and Brussels in their campaign to bring the killers to justice.

They have spoken of their devastation since the killing, with broken relationships and house moves disrupting their lives.

They also accused the IRA of intimidation during their campaign.

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