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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 13:46 GMT
Guerin murder conviction quashed
Veronica Guerin with her husband and son
Veronica Guerin (right): Killed at the wheel of her car
A man jailed for the 1996 murder of Irish investigative journalist Veronica Guerin has had his conviction overturned.

Paul Ward, aged 37, was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 1998 after being found guilty of shooting Ms Guerin in her car on the outskirts of Dublin in June 1996.

Paul Ward
Ward remains in jail on prison riot sentence
He appealed to the Dublin Court of Criminal Appeal earlier this month, contesting the credibility of evidence provided by a police informer.

At his trial he denied any knowledge of the murder of Ms Guerin, a 36-year-old mother-of-one.

However three judges of the Special Criminal Court, sitting without a jury, accepted the evidence of informer Charles Bowden, a member of the same criminal gang as Ward, who had turned state's witness.

Opportunistic killing

Ward will remain in prison in order to serve out a 12-year term he had received for taking part in a riot in Dublin's Mountjoy jail, while he was awaiting trial for the murder.

Mr Bowden, 34, told the court at Ward's trial that Ms Guerin was murdered on the orders of the leader of a drugs gang, after she took out an assault charge against him.

He said Ward had taken part in meetings where the murder was planned.

Ward's counsel, Barry White, argued during the appeal that the court had been wrong in failing to treat Mr Bowden as a "supergrass".

Mr Justice Frank Murphy, president of the court of appeal's three judges, ruled that the conviction should be set aside.

He said it had to be assumed that the murder was opportunistic, not part of a "pre-ordained" scheme.

Rights violated

Ms Guerin was shot dead at the wheel of her car by the pillion passenger on a motorcycle which drew up alongside her at traffic lights.

Brian Meehan
Meehan: Also convicted on informer's evidence
Ward was not present at the time, but the Special Criminal Court said he disposed of the gun and the motorcycle, and so was guilty.

At the trial he claimed that Mr Bowden had lied, and that police had invented evidence.

The judges ruled that his constitutional rights had been "consciously and deliberately violated" in the course of the investigation.

Second man

For the two years before her death, Ms Guerin had mounted a high-profile war against Ireland's drug barons on the pages of a leading Sunday newspaper.

A second man, Brian Meehan, was also convicted of her murder and jailed for life in 1999.

His trial also included evidence from Mr Bowden, who is now living outside Ireland as a protected person.

After Friday's ruling, members of Ward's family said they would appeal against the rioting sentence.

The BBC's Mary Campbell reports from Dublin
"Ward's appeal rested on the credibility of a state witness"
See also:

27 Nov 98 | Europe
Life for journalist murderer
08 Jan 99 | Europe
Guerin killer ends fast
29 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Batman director takes on Guerin film
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