Republican dissident walks free from murder charges for third time

Colin Duffy released due to lack of evidence but gunman found guilty of killing two British soldiers

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The Independent Online

A republican was yesterday convicted of the murders of two British soldiers but Northern Ireland's most high-profile republican dissident walked free after being acquitted.

Brian Shivers, 46, received a life sentence after being found guilty of the murders of Sappers Patrick Azimkar, from London, and Mark Quinsey, from Birmingham.

The soldiers were gunned down in March 2009 while collecting pizzas at the gates of a Co Antrim military barracks, just before their departure for Afghanistan. But Colin Duffy, 44, was found not guilty, the judge ruling that although his DNA had been found in a getaway car, there was insufficient evidence against him. Mr Justice Anthony Hart added: "There must be strong suspicion that Duffy did know what was going to happen and that is why he has refused to give evidence."

Duffy, 44, has over the past two decades stood accused of the murder of a former soldier and two police officers. All the prosecutions brought against him have failed.

He has been a prominent republican since he was a teenager, first in the mainstream IRA and later in breakaway dissident groups. A police report said of him that he was "pro-active, provocative and confrontational", adding: "It is difficult to monitor and restrain an individual so determined, belligerent and violent." Duffy appeared in court wearing a long unkempt beard grown as part of a prison protest.

The two soldiers who died suffered multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds to the head, trunk and limbs. More than 60 shots were fired in the attack, which also caused injuries to other soldiers and civilians.

The prosecution did not allege that Duffy was one of the gunmen who fired the shots. But it claimed he was linked to the incident by DNA found in the getaway car, on the tip of a latex glove and on the buckle of a seat-belt. The judge ruled he was satisfied Duffy had been in the car at some point after it was purchased two weeks before the attack and had worn latex gloves in the knowledge that it was going to be used in a criminal act. But he said this did not prove Duffy was part of a plot to murder.

After the verdicts, Sapper Quinsey's sister Jaime said: "Mark and Patrick were murdered as a result of a vicious cowardly act – they were unarmed and preparing to go to serve their country in Afghanistan. After nearly three years of heartache we have come a little bit closer to justice."

Sapper Azimkar's mother Geraldine added: "This was a terrible crime which stole Patrick and Mark's young lives from them. Losing Patrick has forever cast a dark shadow over our lives."

Jailing Shivers, who is a relative unknown within republicanism, the judge said he was satisfied that his DNA had been detected on two matchsticks found on the back seat of the getaway car, and on a mobile phone, and that Shivers had made an unsuccessful attempt to set fire to the car to destroy any evidence.

Shivers had also lied, the judge said, about his whereabouts and actions on the night of the murders. Counsel for Shivers said he had a limited lifespan because he suffered from cystic fibrosis. This, counsel argued, "renders it less likely that he should suddenly out of the blue engage in some mad terrorist adventure".

Colin Duffy: Previous trials

Colin Duffy, the militant Northern Irish republican, has successfully resisted attempts to link him with the killings of five members of the security forces. Almost two decades ago, he was convicted of the murder of an ex-soldier but released on appeal.

In 1997 he was charged with the murder of two police officers, but the case collapsed. Duffy also escaped a loyalist assassination attempt which killed another republican.