Marines verdict attacked by MPs and rights groups: Scientific evidence leads to acquittal of soldiers on charges of murder and attempted murder in Ulster. David McKittrick reports

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The Independent Online
CIVIL LIBERTIES groups and nationalist politicians yesterday criticised the outcome of a trial in which two Royal Marines were cleared of murdering a man and attempting to murder his brother in south Armagh.

The two marines denied murdering Fergal Caraher, a 20-year-old member of Sinn Fein, and attempting to murder Micheal Caraher, 23, in the village of Cullyhanna in December 1990.

The accused were L/Cpl Richard Elkington, 23, and Pte Andrew Callaghan, 21, both members of 45 Commando, who were among 13 soldiers on patrol in the village.

As the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Brian Hutton, delivered his judgment, members of the Caraher family led dozens of relatives and friends in a silent walkout from the court. By contrast, relatives and friends of the accused cheered the verdicts.

The prosecution case was that as the Caraher brothers attempted to drive out of a pub car park, L/Cpl Elkington smashed the driver's window with his rifle and opened fire on the car, ordering Pte Callaghan to do likewise.

The court was told that L/Cpl Elkington had said to police he had fired nine aimed shots at the driver, believing that a third soldier was being carried away on the bonnet of the car. Pte Callaghan had said he fired 12 'well-aimed shots' because he feared for the life of the third Marine, whom he could not see. This was contradicted by eyewitnesses.

Sir Brian said there had been a complete conflict between prosecution and defence witnesses. He had concluded that he could not rely completely on either. There was, however, objective and undisputed scientific evidence which gave some support to the soldiers' evidence, with uniform fibres found on the bonnet of the car.

Fergal Caraher's widow, Margaret, said the family was disappointed but would not rest until justice had been done. 'We've come to expect nothing more from the legal system in the north of Ireland. In all the talk of peace under that declaration there's absolutely no word about state violence or the people responsible for killing Fergal.'

The Belfast-based Committee on the Administration of Justice expressed disquiet, saying that the witnesses whose evidence had been dismissed by Sir Brian had been judged very credible by international observers.

Seamus Mallon, the Social Democratic and Labour Party MP, said the 'depressing' verdict showed again that in cases involving the security forces and the public, the balance was always tilted in favour of the security force members.

(Photographs omitted)