THE High Court in Belfast has heard a claim that the PSNI tried to sabotage the appeal of two men convicted of murdering a police officer.
Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton were found guilty of murdering Constable Stephen Carroll but are appealing against the verdict.
The Court of Appeal in Belfast heard that a new witness has come forward who has said a key prosecution witness in the 2012 trial is a “compulsive liar”.
The new witness was arrested last week and held for two days before being released on Saturday without charge.
A lawyer for Mr McConville told the court that it appeared the arrest was “an attempt to sabotage this appeal”.
Senior judges heard that PSNI officers forced their way into the home of the new witness and warned him he would be discredited if he went to court.
The judges were told the arrest was done in a bid to pressure him into withdrawing his evidence.
Constable Stephen Carroll was murdered by dissident republican paramilitaries in County Armagh on 9 March 2009.
The officer was shot dead as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon.
He was the first PSNI officer to be murdered since its formation in 2001.
Former Sinn Fein councillor McConville, of Glenholme Avenue, Craigavon, and Wootton, of Collindale, Lurgan, were found guilty of the murder in March 2012.
At the appeal on Monday, the prosecution requested that the planned five-day hearing be adjourned, due to uncertainty over the potential fresh evidence.
Prosecution counsel told the court that the arrest was made last week as part of a surveillance operation.
“There are a number of lines of inquiry that are not yet complete,” the barrister said.
The prosecution indicated that police inquiries could take several weeks.
They revealed that two lever arch files of new material has emerged, including the contents of 11 interviews.
McConville’s barrister told the court that the prosecution case was entirely based on circumstantial evidence, primarily from a man identified only as witness M who claimed he saw his client in the area at the time of the killing.
Earlier this month, a relative of witness M, who did not testify at last year’s trial, swore an affidavit branding him a compulsive liar, the court heard.
That affidavit said that witness M “was known in the family as a Walter Mitty, that he made up stories, that he had a fertile imagination and you could not believe anything he said,” defence counsel told the appeal hearing.
According to the relative, witness M could not have taken the route he claimed on the night of the murder because his partner was not welcome in his home.
McConville’s defence barrister told the court: “Then last Monday two police officers called at the house of this witness on whose fresh evidence we rely.
“On my instructions it appears they forced their way into the house and proceeded to warn him that if he went to court he would be discredited.”
The three appeal judges were informed that letters of complaint are also to be sent to the Public Prosecution Service and the Law Society, amid concerns that covert surveillance may have been used against either the witness, his solicitor, or both.
Defence counsel described the prosecution’s application to adjourn the hearing as “suspicious to say the least”.
McConville’s barrister said defence teams would have no faith in police carrying out an investigation into the issues raised, due to the apparent conflict of interest.
It was alleged that PSNI officers were able to “arrest this witness and to subject him to pressure, we say improper pressure, with a view to securing the withdrawal of his evidence and therefore undermining the appeal”.
The defence barrister added: “I’m simply registering strong objection to the conduct that appears to have taken place here, and flagging up our deep concerns at the prospect that police should be given more time to sabotage this appeal and put their case together.”
Following discussions, the three judges agreed to the prosecution’s adjournment request and postponed the appeal until October.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: “It seems to us there is such a high level of uncertainty as to the factual circumstances surrounding the position that we are faced with having no alternative but to adjourn this appeal.”