McCartneys given armed police guard as accused appear in court

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The Independent Online

Protected by armed police in riot gear, the McCartney sisters yesterday took their place in a Belfast court to watch a veteran republican being charged with the murder of their brother Robert.

The move was the latest in the extraordinary saga, which has seen the family challenge the auhority of the IRA and Sinn Fein in a campaign that has taken them to Washington and Strasbourg.

Robert McCartney was beaten and fatally stabbed in a backstreet incident following a bar brawl close to the republican Markets area of Belfast in January.

The McCartney campaign to bring those involved to justice has elevated the murder to one of Belfast's most high-profile killings.

Some observers had doubted that charges would ever be brought in relation to the murder, since the IRA was said to have intimidated witnesses and removed and destroyed forensic evidence.

Yesterday Terence Davison, 49, of Stanfield Place in the Markets area, was charged with murder.

Another man, 36-year-old James McCormick, whose address was given as Stetchford, Birmingham, was accused of attempting to murder Mr McCartney's companion, Brendan Devine.

Mr McCormick, a Belfast man, was arrested in a police raid in Birmingham this week. Both men denied the charges and were remanded in custody.

Speaking after the brief hearing, which took place at a court close to the scene of her brother's death, Paula McCartney said the family was relieved that "the first step in a very long process is over". She added: "It has to be remembered that there were a lot more people involved in Robert's murder, and we won't be happy until all those people who were involved are brought to account.

"We are glad that it has arrived at court because we vehemently believe that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. We hope that is what is going to happen here and it will be found out in the courtroom who is guilty and who isn't."

Ms McCartney said she felt "nauseated" when she saw the accused. On the courtroom's public benches the McCartney family was separated by riot police from relatives and supporters of the defendants.

Substantial resources have been devoted to the murder investigation. This week Chief Constable Hugh Orde said police had taken more than 150 witness statements.

Yesterday's hearing was told that Mr Davison had been arrested in February, and during 12 police interviews had denied killing Mr McCartney. Detective Chief Inspector Kevin Dunwoody testified that both men denied the charges while in custody on Friday night.

He said he was confident that two witness statements against both men, as well as forensic evidence against Mr McCormick, would help to connect both to the charges.

The McCartney campaign for justice has taken them to Washington, where they met President George Bush on St Patrick's Day, and to the European Parliament. In Strasbourg they received overwhelming support for a possible civil action against those alleged to be responsible for the murder.

The affair has caused major embarrassment to both Sinn Fein and the IRA. Sinn Fein has suspended a number of party members while the IRA expelled three men, including a high-ranking officer.

Sinn Fein went further than it had ever done in saying that those with evidence or information should be provided to the authorities, which was a break with traditional republican practice.