Last September, the PSNI mounted yet another operation on the Derrybeg estate in Newry, raiding and searching homes, cars and individuals. éirígí representative Stephen Murney was present in the area to offer solidarity to the affected residents. However, around mid-day, the PSNI took exception to his presence and moved to arrest him, punching, kicking and threatening him with further violence in the process. Stephen was then arrested, handcuffed and unceremoniously bundled into a PSNI vehicle and taken to Armagh barracks where he was eventually charged before being released seven hours later.
On Friday, Newry court heard the full details of the spurious PSNI case against Stephen. Prior to the commencement of the hearing, a protest was held outside the courthouse in support of Stephen which also highlighted ongoing PSNI harassment of Republicans.
The case itself, scheduled to start at 10.30am, was delayed for almost two and a half hours as all three of the PSNI witnesses for the prosecution had failed to appear for the court hearing.
In other instances, the non-appearance of all of the prosecution witnesses would often lead to the automatic dismissal of a case. Not so in Stephen’s case. Instead, the magistrate allowed the Prosecution Service to contact the PSNI and to give the PSNI personnel additional time to turn up.
When the case eventually commenced at a few minutes before one o’clock after the trio eventually arrived, it was clear that the case against Stephen was a largely concocted one.
The first PSNI member to give evidence had no “pocket book” with her to confirm that her statement was based on contemporaneous notes made at the time of Stephen’s arrest. She was then given time to drive to Tandragee barracks to get her pocket book. In the meantime, evidence given by PSNI witness number two differed from that of the first, while the evidence of PSNI witness number three failed to match any of that given by the previous two.
A further delay of over another hour then ensued while the court waited on the first PSNI witness to return back from Tandragee.
Disregarding the major inconsistencies in the PSNI evidence, the magistrate then went on to criticise Stephen for refusing to answer any questions put to him by the PSNI while he had been held in Armagh barracks.
It was clear from the outset of the hearing that, given widest possible degree of latitude which the magistrate had afforded to the PSNI, the outcome was going to be a foregone conclusion.
Setting aside six of the charges against Stephen, the magistrate found him guilty on the remaining three charges of resisting arrest and obstructing and assaulting one member of the PSNI and not all three PSNI members as argued by the prosecution and which eight of the original nine charges had alleged. He then fined Stephen £600.
Speaking outside Newry courthouse after the case, éirígí Rúnaí Ginearálta Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “The only thing that Stephen is responsible for is that he was prepared to assist his neighbours in the Derrybeg estate as they had their homes and cars raided and searched by the PSNI – searches that, it should be remembered, uncovered absolutely nothing. Assisting one’s neighbours is neither blameworthy nor wrong; indeed, it is to be commended.
“If the PSNI and courts believe that they can deter activists such as Stephen Murney from engaging in normal political activities which is exactly what Stephen was doing at the time of his arrest, they are badly mistaken.”