Belfast Crown Court: Three men found not guilty of murdering man in Carrickfergus
Three men who were charged with the murder of a man in Carrickfergus have been found not guilty of all charges against them.
Concluding that he could not find the men guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr Justice Gerry McAlinden described the self-styled paramilitary organisations to which the men were accused of belonging “a cancer feeding off the deeply rooted tribal fears of the communities in which they operate”.
On the afternoon of 13 March 2017, George Gilmore senior was shot as he was driving through the Woodburn Estate in Carrickfergus.
Two men, Stephen Boyd and Kelvin Graham, were in the car with Mr Gilmore at the time, and Mr Gilmore’s son, George Gilmore junior, was driving another car in which Mateusz Ostrowski was a front seat passenger.
Earlier that day, the men had been at Laganside Courts where they had been supporting an associate who had been charged with the attempted murder of a doorman in Carrickfergus.
Mr Gilmore was shot in the back of the head, causing an unsurvivable brain injury. The car was hit by a number of bullets, however no-one else was injured in the shooting.
Three men – David McMaw, Brian McLean, and Darren McMaw – were charged with the murder of the deceased, the attempted murder of Stephen Boyd and Kelvin Graham, and possession of a firearm with intent.
It was suggested the murder was linked to an ongoing feud between factions of the South East Antrim UDA.
Belfast Crown Court
In Belfast Crown Court, the case against the three men was largely based on eyewitness testimony from George Gilmore junior, Stephen Boyd and Mateusz Ostrowski. In addition, the prosecution sought to rely on mobile phone records, answers given during police questioning, and the decision by each of the accused to not give evidence during the trial.
David McMaw and Brian McLean denied involvement in the murder but refused to answer any other questions during their police interviews.
Darren McMaw had initially participated in the interviews – he said he was aware of the feud between the Gilmores and a faction of the UDA, but denied UDA membership and involvement in the murder.
Considering the eyewitness testimony, Mr Justice McAlinden said it was clear that this formed a “central pillar of the Crown case”, but said that he simply did not believe that any of the three witnesses saw what they say they saw. He said that their evidence was riven with “utterly implausible, internally conflicting and mutually contradictory accounts”, that it was “incapable of belief” and that no conviction could be safely founded on it.
Mr Justice McAlinden said that the evidence against him, including “the nature, extent and pattern of his telephone contacts during the relevant period, his likely face to face contacts with the other defendants including his likely presence in Castlemara Drive and in Darren McMaw’s van”, coupled with the proper adverse inference drawn from his failure to give evidence, “raised the index of suspicion … to a very high level”.
However, Mr Justice McAlinden added that “careful and anxious scrutiny of the evidence” did not allow him to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that David McMaw was in possession of a gun that day or that he was the gunman who aimed shots at the car.
In those circumstances, Mr Justice McAlinden found David McMaw not guilty of each of the charges faced by him.
Mr Justice McAlinden said that the circumstantial case against Brian McLean was somewhat weaker than the case against David McMaw. He said the evidence raised “the index of suspicion to a significant level … but not to a level approaching the criminal standard of proof in respect of the charges faced by him”. As such, Mr Justice McAlinden said there was no basis upon which a charge of unlawful act of manslaughter could be made out against him.
Mr Justice McAlinden also considered the evidence which placed Darren McMaw’s van at various locations in Carrickfergus on the day of the shooting, including a tracking device which had been attached to the van by his employer.
Mr Justice McAlinden said “the clear animus that existed between the Gilmore faction and the faction with which Darren McMaw was obviously associated”, the evidence against him including mobile phone records, his false account to the police, and the proper adverse inference to be drawn from his failure to give evidence, raised the index of suspicion to a very high level.
Mr Justice McAlinden said that he was “satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that on the day in question this defendant was engaged in in attempts to locate the whereabouts and track the movements of the Gilmore party on their return from Court in Belfast”, however he said that “careful and anxious scrutiny of all the evidence” did not allow him “to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Darren McMaw’s engagement in this exercise which did take place was in furtherance of a plot to kill or seriously injure Mr Gilmore senior or anyone else for that matter, either with one, other or both of the other defendants or with another or others unknown”. He therefore found Darren McMaw not guilty of all charges.
A cancer feeding off deep rooted tribal fears
Mr Justice McAlinden said that his judgment should not be interpreted as diminishing the horror of the events actually witnessed on the day in question, adding that the utterly reckless attack put the lives of others in the area gravely at risk.
The judge concluded by asking when this society would “finally realise that these self-styled paramilitary organisations are nothing other than a cancer feeding off the deeply rooted tribal fears of the communities in which they operate and that resorting to the use of a gun solves absolutely nothing and only serves to engender further violence and the further perpetuation of hatred”.
- by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020