RED HAND COMMANDO KILLER LOSES SECTARIAN MURDER APPEAL

Loyalist killer Bobby Rodgers loses his appeal against a second sectarian murder conviction

Loyalist killer Bobby Rodgers loses his appeal against a second sectarian murder conviction

A CONVICTED loyalist killer has failed in a bid to overturn a conviction this year for the sectarian murder of a Catholic teenager 40 years ago.

Robert Rodgers, known as Bobby within the Red Hand Commando terror group, received a life sentence earlier this year for the murder of Eileen Doherty.

She was shot three times after her taxi was hijacked in south Belfast in 1973.

Rodgers claimed he had not received a fair trial.

But the Court of Appeal rejected all grounds of his challenge and declared the verdict safe.

He was given a tariff of 16 years in jail for her murder, but could still be freed in early 2015 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Under the Agreement, a person convicted of a murder before its signing would only have to serve two years and two months of a life sentence in custody.

Ms Doherty, 19, was returning home to the west of the city after visiting her fiancé when the killing was carried out.

The taxi she was travelling in was hijacked by gunmen on the Annadale embankment.

Rodgers, 59, of Tierney Gardens, Belfast, was charged following a review of available evidence by the Historical Enquiries Team (HET).

He denied the murder but was convicted by Mr Justice Mark Horner QC sitting on his own at a Diplock trial in February this year.

Although he was not suspected of firing the fatal shots, he was found guilty of a joint enterprise to murder.

Rodgers has already served 17 years in prison for the killing of a Catholic man a year later.

Ciaran McElroy, 18, was shot a number of times in September 1974 on Park End Street, Belfast.

Rodgers’ challenge to being convicted of Ms Doherty’s murder centred on the decision to let the later killing feature as so-called bad character evidence at his trial.

Eileen Doherty was shot dead by loyalists in Belast in 1973. Bobby Rodgers was convicted of joint enterprise in her murder

Eileen Doherty was shot dead by loyalists in Belfast in 1973. Bobby Rodgers was convicted of joint enterprise in her murder

Arguing that there were insufficient similarities between the two cases, his defence barrister Greg Berry said: “It should not have been deployed. This was a weak case.”

Issues were also raised over Rodgers’ palm prints being recovered from the hijacked taxi.

His barrister told the court that material, including a police file from the original investigation, has since been lost.

But according to a prosecution lawyer, this amounted to crucial evidence of guilt.

“It’s the palm prints that make the case. It’s these matters which have to be looked under the microscope, not what might have been,” said Terence Mooney QC.

“And, with respect, there’s nothing but silence from the appellant.”

Following a brief adjournment to consider submissions, the three Appeal Court judges upheld the conviction.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan told the court: “We have come to the conclusion that the verdict was safe.

“Accordingly we dismiss the appeal and we will give our reasons at a later stage.”

Rodgers showed no emotion as prison guards led him from the court and back to Maghaberry jail.

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