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Prison staff try to prevent court-house consultation as Murney case is moved to Crown Court


15/10/13

Free Stephen MurneyPrison warders attempted to prevent a legal team representing Newry man Stephen Murney from holding a private consultation with him prior to the commencement of the latest court hearing in his case on Tuesday 15th October.

After Stephen had been transported from Maghaberry prison to Newry court-house, a barrister and solicitor were prevented by up to six prison service personnel from consulting with Stephen in private. Such a move by prison service personnel is completely without precedent.

Angered by this quite deliberate attempted interference with Stephen’s rights and, indeed, with the rights of both legal professionals, the barrister was forced to raise the issue with a judge in chambers. It was only after this that instructions were issued to the prison warders to permit the consultation to take place in private.

As a result of this unparalleled attempt by prison warders to interfere with the rights of Stephen and his legal team, the court hearing was delayed for over half an hour.

Earlier, éirígí members and supporters were joined by Stephen’s partner, parents and other relatives as they held a protest outside the court-house. The protest, which coincided with Newry’s early morning rush-hour, received lots of encouraging support from passing motorists and pedestrians.

Within the court-house itself, there was a noticeable scaling back of the oppressive PSNI presence which had overshadowed a previous hearing two weeks ago.

On that occasion, PSNI personnel had video-recorded a private conversation between three Leinster House TDs and members of Stephen’s family. That incident had led to a formal protest being entered into the court record by Stephen’s legal team. The wide coverage of that incident in the local press, which was a PR disaster for the PSNI, was probably the main reason that the PSNI reduced their visibility in public areas of the court-house today.

During the hearing itself, the clear paucity of any evidence against Stephen was once again ably demonstrated by his legal team.

However, in a clear attempt to influence the district judge the prosecution sought to introduce various ‘red herrings’ into the hearing, including references to possible attacks in Britain by Islamic Jihadist organizations. Those mystifying references provoked a ripple of amusement around the court, prompting the prosecution to ask the judge to clear the public galleries. He refused the prosecution request.

Nevertheless, district judge Eamonn King, who has presided over quite a number of hearings relating to the Stephen Murney case, committed the case to the Crown Court in Belfast.

It is expected that the first hearing there will take place in four to six weeks time.

Speaking to family members later on Tuesday afternoon, Stephen revealed that he had been strip-searched on leaving and re-entering Maghaberry prison that day.

Commenting after the court hearing, éirígí’s Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “Stephen Murney has now been imprisoned for almost a year on the basis of a very flimsy and nebulous prosecution initiated by the PSNI in Newry.

“As the case moves to the Crown Court, his legal team will be further strengthened by the additional presence to two barristers.

“In common with those views shared by his family and by other party colleagues in éirígí, I am confident that there is no absolutely no case for Stephen to answer. He has been charged and imprisoned for almost a year as a result of legitimate political activities undertaken as a member of legitimate and open political party.

“Those members of constitutional nationalist parties who would claim that the era of political policing somehow ended in 2007 would do well to study the Stephen Murney case and then examine their own consciences and political positions.”

 

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