By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — After a long campaign by Crossmaglen-born Danny McNamee to clear his name after being jailed for 25 years on conspiracy charges connected with the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, the verdict has been quashed.
The British Court of Criminal Appeal found that the 1987 verdict against McNamee, an electronics engineer, was unsafe and unsound. He now plans to seek compensation for the years he spent in jail.
The campaign to prove him innocent had, like that of the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, attracted support from politicians and leading showbusiness personalities, among them "Father Ted" star Ardal O’Hanlon.
A delighted McNamee, 38, who was already free as part of the peace process, said the entire prosecution case had been "demolished" by his counsel, Michael Mansfield, and that the judges had no option but to quash the conviction.
"I will certainly be trying to get compensated for having lost 12 years of my life," he said.
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In prison, McNamee obtained a degree in law, but because of his conviction, he was he was not allowed to practice law in Northern Ireland. The quashing of the verdict will now free him to follow his new career.
Mansfield said the prosecution at the original trial had painted a false picture of him as the "master bomb-maker" behind the blast, which killed four members of the Household Cavalry and seven horses and injured 17 civilians.
However, McNamee was angered by grudging comments of the judges that even though the verdict was being set aside, he was not necessarily innocent.
In allowing the appeal, the court said that although the verdict of the original jury was unsafe, it did not mean that he was innocent of the charge or had spent years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
"That’s typical of the decisions they give in Irish cases," McNamee said. "It seems to be that the very fact that you are Irish means you are guilty by association.
"It was something we expected from the Court of Appeal. We looked at all the other decisions they have given in the Birmingham and Guildford and Maguire cases and we knew that was typical of their efforts to protect the reputation of the British justice system."
He also said the judges had been mischievous in only reading out part of the judgment, which he said had agreed with all the arguments his defense had put forward.
His 1987 conviction was based on fingerprints found on tape at two IRA arms dumps and on one battery that survived the explosion.
His case had been referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission after inquiries into a number of aspects, including scientific and fingerprint details.
The central issue was non-disclosure of evidence. Fresh evidence concerning convicted bomb-maker Dessie Ellis and his fingerprints on the items was now available that undermined the prosecution case against McNamee.
"What we actually proved was that the case actually they presented against me in court was false and we actually showed they knew it was a false case," McNamee told RTE.
In 1991 the Court of Appeal turned down his application for leave to appeal. His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal in 1997 by the newly created Criminal Cases Review Commission, which was set up to examine possible miscarriages of justice.
The Household Cavalry was on its way to the changing of the guard ceremony 16 years ago when the 25-pound gelignite nail bomb ripped through the troop of 16 riders.
The blast was followed less than two hours later by a second explosion in London’s Regent’s Park bandstand, which killed seven Royal Green Jackets bandsmen.
Then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher denounced the bombing, saying, "We shall not rest until they are brought to justice."
McNamee’s supporters said that because of widespread public outrage when he was put on trial five years later, the jury was unable to consider the case on the evidence alone.
Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews welcomed the setting aside of the verdict and paid tribute to solicitor Gareth Pierce for her "tireless work in a case of humanitarian concern."