Landmark trial collapses at Special Criminal Court

The trial of a Belfast man accused of murdering a taxi driver in the city almost four years ago dramatically collapsed at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today.

The trial of a Belfast man accused of murdering a taxi driver in the city almost four years ago dramatically collapsed at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today.

Prosecuting counsel Mr Michael Bowman BL told the court that the State was entering a "nolle prosequi", in other words not proceeding, in the case of Gerard Mackin, after only three days of evidence.

There were dramatic scenes inside the court after Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, presiding, discharged Mackin. Several of Mackin's supporters who were in court applauded and cheered while members of the victim's family wept openly.

The trial had resumed at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Parkgate St today after the three judges of the court had heard evidence at the Laganside Courts in Belfast on Monday and Tuesday.

It was the second trial of Mackin at the Special Criminal Court after Mackin's original conviction was quashed last July.

In Belfast on Tuesday, the chief prosecution witness in the trial refused to give evidence and said he feared for his life.

Mr Damien O' Neill told Belfast High Court judge Ronald Weatherup and the three judges of the Special Criminal Court: "I have been threatened that if I give any evidence I will be shot dead."

Mr O' Neill, who was arrested in Belfast on Monday night on foot of a warrant issued by Mr Justice Weatherup, said he had been visited twice in the past three weeks by "men from the republican movement".

He remained silent when continually questioned by prosecution counsel Mr Tom O' Connell SC and by Mr Justice Weatherup.

The judge warned Mr O' Neill that he was liable to prosecution for contempt of court if he refused to answer questions, but he replied: "My life's at stake."

The judge discharged Mr O'Neill after refusing a prosecution application to have a statement made by Mr O' Neill to the PSNI in 2007 admitted in evidence.

The President of the High Court in the Republic, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, along with Judge Joseph Matthews and Judge Flan Brennan, were present on the bench for the taking of evidence by Mr Justice Weatherup.

Gerard Mackin (aged 28), a native of the Whiterock area of west Belfast, with an address at Raheen Close, Tallaght, Dublin had denied the murder of Mr Edward Burns, a taxi driver and 36-year-old father-of-five, of Prospect Park, Belfast, at Bog Meadow, Falls Road, Belfast on March 12, 2007.

He had also pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of Mr Damien O'Neill, the possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and causing serious harm to Mr O' Neill on the same date.

Mackin's trial opened at the Criminal Courts of Justice in Parkgate Street in Dublin last month but was adjourned to allow for the taking of evidence in the North.

Mackin's trial was a retrial after his conviction in 2008 for murder was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal and a retrial was ordered.

Mackin's conviction was quashed after the appeal court ruled that crucial prosecution evidence taken in Belfast had not been properly proven during his original trial.

He was the first person convicted in a Dublin court for an alleged murder in Belfast under a rarely used cross border anti-terrorist law.

Mackin opted for trial in the Republic under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act of 1976 which allows suspects to be tried in the Republic for alleged offences in Britain or the North.

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