Trial of éirígí activist begins

January 27, 2014

By Christine Keighery

Newry man Stephen Murney finally went on trial last Thursday accused of possessing, collecting and communicating information likely to be of use to terrorists.

The éirígí frontman has been held in custody at Maghaberry prison since his arrest back in November 2012, following a police search of his Derrybeg home which led to the discovery of the offending photographs on a computer, together with two videos on an iphone.

The setting of Murney’s trial date has been beset by delays and controversy which have been met with heavy criticism by his éirígí party members as well as his defence lawyer, Barry MacDonald, QC, SC.

The trial had failed to begin as planned last Tuesday (21st January) when it emerged that no judge was available to hear the case.

It further emerged, at a separate pre-trial application by Stephen’s defence team, that prison authorities had failed to transport Stephen from Maghaberry to the court on Tuesday.

Speaking outside Laganside courthouse on the original trial date last Tuesday, éirígí’s Pádraic Mac Coitir, who had attended the court along with Stephen’s family, party members, and Leinster House TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, condemned the failure of the authorities to ensure the case went ahead as planned.

“Stephen’s case had been formally listed two months ago to be heard on (21st January) yet the prison authorities managed to ensure that he did not appear in court. To compound this injustice even further, it then emerged that there was no judge available to hear the full case.” said Mac Coitir, who described Tuesday’s situation as “a farcical scenario” which he said “only served to compound the whole sense of injustice surrounding this case against Stephen ever since he was first arrested and imprisoned at the beginning of December 2012.”

Murney denies the offences and on Thursday, his defence lawyer applied to Deputy Recorder Judge Corinne Philpott QC for a direction that Murney has no case to answer.

Mr MacDonald argued that the collecting and publishing of police officers’ photos, prima facia, does not amount to collecting information for terrorists, as the information itself, has to be inherently sinister, rather than just sinister because of the circumstances in which it is possessed.

The lawyer said law makers did not intend for the taking of photographs, per se to amount to a criminal act. Mr    Mac  Donald highlighted that press photographers and political activists did so day and daily, and published their photographs.

According to the defence lawyer, there was no authority which said that the mere possession of a photo of a police officer is an offence, as by their very nature they were not designed to be of use to terrorists and, therefore, not a criminal offence.

He further argued that Murney was facing a type of ‘hybrid charge’ which was not envisaged by the legislation, and therefore the defence case remained that Murney was wrongly charged and, as such, the case against him should be thrown out.

The defence claimed that the mistake was in looking at the reason why photographs are taken when deciding on whether the photograph in itself breaches the legislation.

However, the prosecution claimed this is not what the law implied, and that the defence were taking a far too narrow interpretation of the law in this regard.

Counsel further argued that the offences faced by Murney stood alone and that the photos, which include one of Murney being searched on two separate occasions by police were placed on his open Facebook account which would enable any other account holder to view the photographs he had published.

The Deputy Recorder requested that both lawyers supply written submissions on the matters for her consideration before ruling on the direction application next week.