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Thursday, December 17, 1998 Published at 12:35 GMT


McNamee's 11-year campaign for justice

The Hyde Park bombing killed four soldiers and seven horses

Danny McNamee was supported by a long-running campaign to quash his conviction. He always denied belonging to the IRA, and in an usual move the group itself declared he was not one of its members.

Mr McNamee, from Crossmaglen in South Armagh, was convicted in October 1987 of conspiring to cause explosions, including the Hyde Park car bomb that killed four soldiers and seven horses of the Household Cavalry and injured 17 civilians.

[ image: Danny McNamee: Broke out of Whitemoor in 1994]
Danny McNamee: Broke out of Whitemoor in 1994
In 1991 the Court of Appeal turned down his application for leave to appeal against his conviction.

Three years later he was one of six men who staged an armed break-out at Whitemoor prison, Cambridgeshire.

His case was referred back to the Court of Appeal in July 1997 by the newly created Criminal Cases Review Commission set up to examine possible miscarrriages of justice. It was concerned about a number of issues, including scientific and fingerprint evidence and non-disclosure of evidence at the time of the trial.

'Material kept back'

Mr McNamee's counsel, Michael Mansfield QC, argued that the prosecution at his orginal trial at the Old Bailey painted a false picture of him as the "master bomb-maker".

He said certain material had been kept from him at Mr McNamee's trial and his failed appeal four years later.

The conviction was based on fingerprints found on tape at two IRA arms dumps and on one battery that survived the Hyde Park explosion.

Mr Mansfield said there were doubts that the fingerprint found on the battery was really that of Mr McNamee and those on the tape could have come from an electronics factory where Mr McNamee worked as an engineer.

At the start of this latest appeal hearing, Mr Mansfield told the judges that fresh evidence concerning convicted bomb-maker Desmond Ellis was now available that substantially undermined the prosecution case against Mr McNamee and supported his defence.

Release from Maze

In November of this year, Mr McNamee, became the first person to be convicted of a terrorist offence in England to be freed early.

He was released from the Maze Prison as part of the early prisoner releases set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

He had served less than half of his 25-year sentence.

While in prison the former electrical engineer obtained a degree in law. But because he was convicted of a terrorist offence he was not allowed to practise law in Northern Ireland.

Although the appeal court judges said Mr McNamee was not necessarily innocent of the bomb-making, the quashing of his conviction may now allow him to pursue his favoured career.

Public outrage

The Hyde Park bombing conviction was one of the last unresolved legal wrangles born out of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

[ image: Margaret Thatcher vowed to track down the perpetrators]
Margaret Thatcher vowed to track down the perpetrators
Like the campaigns to free the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six, efforts to establish Mr McNamee's innocence attracted high-profile support from the world of showbusiness, including Eddie Izzard, Rob Newman, Jeremy Hardy and Father Ted star Ardal O'Hanlon.

But it also provoked bitterness and resentment, and 16 years on, it is still regarded as one of the IRA's bloodiest outrages.

The Household Cavalrymen of the Blues and Royals were riding through the park on their way to the changing of the guard when a nail bomb went off on 20 July 1982.

As the 16-strong squad rode past at 10.44am the bomb, containing 25lb of gelignite and nails was detonated by remote control, leaving men and horses lying dead or wounded on the pavement.

The blast was followed less than two hours later by a second explosion in a Regent's Park bandstand which killed seven Royal Green Jackets bandsmen.

The then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, denounced the perpetrators, saying: "We shall not rest until they are brought to justice."

His supporters said that because of widespread public outrage, when Mr McNamee was put on trial for the bombing five years later the jury was unable to consider the case on the evidence alone.

They were shown photos of the carnage, which became "the shadow behind everything", said Mr Mansfield.

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