Irish court quashes conviction of man jailed for Guerin murder

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The Independent Online

The conviction of a man jailed for the murder of the Irish investigative reporter Veronica Guerin, who was shot dead in 1996, was overturned in a Dublin court yesterday.

The killing, and the political furore which followed it, led to a huge offensive by the authorities against Dublin drugs underworld figures. A battery of new laws was introduced in the wake of the shooting.

Paul Ward, a self-confessed former drugs dealer, yesterday had his conviction overturned at the Dublin Court of Criminal Appeal. Two other members of the gang held responsible for the killing, including its leader, John Gilligan, have lodged appeals against their convictions.

A year ago, Gilligan was acquitted of the Guerin murder but jailed for a record 28 years for drugs offences. In sentencing him, a judge declared: "Never in the history of the state has one person been responsible for so much wretchedness to so many."

Gilligan was said to have accumulated many millions of pounds from drug activities.

Ms Guerin died when a gunman on a motorcycle drew up beside her car and shot her six times. As crime correspondent of the Dublin Sunday Independent, she was known as a tenacious investigator of criminal activity, including that of the Gilligan gang. Her brother, Jimmy, said yesterday her family was disappointed Ward had been acquitted, but believed that most of those responsible for the murder were behind bars. Ward was not released yesterday since he is serving a 12-year term for his part in a prison riot while awaiting trial.

Much of the case against Ward and others relied heavily on the evidence of a former gang member, Charles Bowden. Since testifying, he has been given a new identity and has moved abroad as part of a witness protection programme introduced after the Guerin murder.

The court that convicted Ward said it had treated Bowden's evidence with great caution, describing him as "a self-serving, deeply avaricious and potentially vicious criminal". A judge added: "On his own admission he is a liar and the court readily accepts that he would lie without hesitation." Yesterday the Appeal Court concluded that the original court, "was misled by the confusing evidence and voluminous documentation".

* The Northern Ireland authorities are hopeful the IRA will carry out an act of decommissioning, possibly in the next week. The IRA put some of its weapons beyond use last autumn, but has been under increasing pressure to repeat the exercise in the near future.

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