The evidence of three witnesses against Catherine Nevin at her trial raise serious doubts about the reliability of her convinction. By Vincent Browne
On 10 April 2000 Catherine Nevin was found guilty of the murder of her husband, Tom Nevin, on 19 March 1996. She was sentenced to life imprisonment and is serving her sentence at the Dochas Centre at Mountjoy.
Her conviction hinged on the evidence of three witnesses, John Jones, Gerry Heapes and William McClean, all of whom said Catherine Nevin had asked the or solicited them to murder her husband or have her husband murdered, several years before the murder took place. There was no forensic evidence supporting the case against her. There was no eye-witness evidence, no admission by her of having been implicated in the murder of her husband. There was circumstantial evidence but it was made clear at the trial the circumstantial evidence could not have convicted her on its own.
In his closing address, one of the prosecuting counsel, Tom O'Connell, stated: “You (members of the jury) should actually consider the soliciting charges before you go on to consider the murder charge because the soliciting charges or a finding of guilt in relation to one or more of he soliciting charges is necessary, and the prosecution accepts this, is necessary to support a finding on the murder charge..., there is insufficient circumstantial evidence to justify a finding of guilt on the murder charge.”
And it is because of the frailties of the evidence of these three witnesses that concern arises about the safety of Catherine Nevin's conviction for the murder of her husband.
John Jones said in evidence he lived in Balbriggan, Co Dublin. He said from about 1980 he made his living from a television rental and repair business, based in Finglas. The bottom floor of this premises was a Sinn Féin advice centre.
He said in evidence he was chairman of the local Sinn Féin Cumann and had been a member of this party from around 1970 (when Provisional Sinn Féin was formed – almost every male then involved in Provisional Sinn Féin was also a member of the Provisional IRA). He said he had remained a member of Sinn Féin until around 1994. He said in evidence Catherine Nevin came into the advice centre in 1984 or 1985 and said she had been advised by a well-known Sinn Féin activist, Christie Burke, to seek advice from Sinn Féin in Finglas about the purchase of a pub in the area. John Jones said he told her he couldn't assist her.
He said in evidence he later became aware she and her husband had leased the Barry House or Cappagh House (the two names are used) pub and she had allowed Sinn Féin to use the pub for fund-raising and allowed An Phoblacht (the Sinn Féin newspaper) to be sold there. He said: “Generally she was helpful to us”.
He said that after the Nevins had moved to Wicklow to Jack White's pub he visited there on two occasions, within a fortnight of each other. He said that even after the Nevins moved to Wicklow, Catherine Nevin would call in to the Sinn Féin offices in Finglas four or five times a year. Then around 1989 she said to him “I have a proposition for you... I want you to get the IRA to shoot Tom”.
About six weeks later he said she visited him again. He said she asked him: “have you thought about the proposition. He said he asked what she was talking about and he said she said: “I want you to get the IRA to shoot Tom in what would look like a botched hold-up”. She went on to say, according to him: “I can guarantee you that it would be either £23,000 or £25,000 and that it would be after a bank holiday weekend”.
Asked about Tom Nevin he said he knew him and got on with him “very well”.
Under cross examinationfrom Paddy McEntee SC, counsel for Catherine Nevin, John Jones said he said Dessie Ellis was his partner in the TV repair business. Dessie Ellis was convicted of possession of explosives and served a 10 year sentence. (Dessie Ellis was a Sinn Féin candidate in the recent elections in Dublin North West but, contrary to expectations, he failed to be elected.)
In 1990 Dessie Ellis became the first political prisoner to be extradited to Britain, again on explosives charges. He went on hunger strike to protest his extradition. He was eventually acquitted of the charges in Britain. Ellis and Jones, according to Jones, had been partners from 1978. Ellis was believed to be one of the expert IRA bomb-makers with special expertise in electronic circuits. In his evidence Jones purported to have been unaware of the activities of his business partner.
Asked if at the time he ever told the gardaí about this claim by Catherine Nevin and about she attempting to get him to get her husband murdered he said he didn't. He said: “I didn't know where Catherine Nevin had come from or who she was working for or what she was doing… Maybe she was trying to infiltrate our movement and trying to just generally cause trouble, which would have been to the satisfaction of the guards”.
Asked why he did not inform Tom Nevin that his wife was trying to get the IRA to have him murdered, he said: “She would have denied it … and I don't know what the repercussions would have been for me. It was a situation I didn't know whether Tom… was involved in this plan”.
He said he had spoken to two “senior” people in the “movement” about what Catherine Nevin had been asking him to do. One was Pat Russell, who was then a university student and secretary of the Sinn Féin Cumann in Finglas of which he was chairman (Pat Russell was a member of the IRA at the time – he is now a practising barrister). He said in evidence he could not remember who the other person was that he told at the time of Catherine Nevin's request to have her husband murdered. But in his evidence on depositions in the District Court (a pre-trial procedure) he had said not that he couldn't remember who this other person was but that he was not at liberty to name this person. On another occasion he said this second person was “a prominent member of the Organisation whom I do not wish to name”.
Asked if it had occurred to him to inform the IRA of this, he said: “I don't know anybody in the IRA, I am afraid (page 51 of transcript of day 12). He went on to say (page 52): “I do not know how to get in touch with any members of the IRA”. Later: “I have no desire to meet any member of the IRA or know anyone of the IRA for any purpose.”
* How plausible is it that Catherine Nevin would go to John Jones to arrange for the murder of her husband knowing that Jones knew her husband and liked him and might well have told him (Tom Nevin) what was afoot?
* How can his evidence be believed “beyond reasonable doubt” given that, clearly, he lied in claiming he knew nobody in the IRA and did not know how to contact the IRA.
* How it is believable that any would-be assassin of Tom Nevin would have conducted the assassination in return solely for the takings of the pub over a bank holiday weekend, when they could have taken those takings anyway without murdering Tom Nevin?
* Given the seriousness of what was allegedly proposed to him, why did he not go to the Gardaí or, if not them, then an independent community or political figure and tell them what she was up to?
* Why in March 1996, after he had severed his connections to the republican movement, did he not go to the gardaí immediately on hearing of the murder of Tom Nevin and tell them of what he knew (he did nto speak to the gardaí abut the murder, he said, until 1998)?
Gerry Heapes said in evidence he had been from November 1977 to June 1985 on conviction for armed robbery. He was a member of the IRA. On release from prison a function to celebrate his homecoming was held in the Barry House pub, then run by Tom Nevin. Subsequently he worked at the Sinn Féin advice centre in Finglas.
He said in evidence that around this time (1985) he was introduced to Catherine Nevin and he said she kept “popping in and out” of the Sinn Féin advice centre. He received an invitation to attend the opening of Jack White's pub in Wicklow in June 1986 and went there with his wife. While at the function he met William McClean, the third of the critical witnesses in the case.
Some weeks later he went down again to Jack White's pub. Catherine Nevin put on a meal for himself and his wife. Tom Nevin came over and asked for assistance in putting out bikers who were causing trouble.
He said that in 1989 or 1990 he was hanging around outside the Barry House pub in Finglas when Catherine Nevin drove up. He said she asked to see him and the two of them went into the public house for a coffee. He said she told him she was being beaten up by her husband and she wanted to know would he kill him (Tom Nevin) or could he get someone to kill him. He said in court he told her he would think about it and asked her to come back to him.
Subsequently, without any arrangement, he said in evidence, she drove up some time later and again he was in the vicinity of the Barry House. He said this time they drove to the Phoenix Park and she asked if he had thought about her proposition. He said he asked her “How do you want it done”. She said she wanted him killed in the pub to make it look like a robbery. He said that at that meeting she said if the robbery took place in the pub after a bank holiday weekend there would be £25,000 in the till. He said he told her that wouldn't be enough and she then said she could increase it to £40,000, the additional sum would be paid after things died down.
He said in evidence he had about ten meetings in all with her. He said that at these meetings he kept raising objections and difficulties in relation to the various schemes she proposed on how her husband might be killed. He said that eventually these meetings ended.
He said in evidence that some four or five years later, in 1994 or 1995, he went down again to Jack White's pub in the company of a Pearse Moran. He said the reason he went on that occasion was that he had been put out of his home by his wife and he was seeking accommodation and he knew Tom Nevin rented flats.
He said in evidence:
“The purpose of the visit was myself and Pearse, basically bombed along and had nothing to do and if she (Catherine Nevin) got something into her head and we would go to her and say what is the story Catherine Nevin and if she still comes across wanting her husband killed and if she does to see if we could get some money because she isn't able to go to the police about it. We went up and walked in the door. Catherine walked over and did not say hallo, goodbye, walked over and said ‘everything is made up'”
He was arrested on 28 July 1998 (the same day Catherine Nevin was arrested) under Section 30 of the Offensives Against the State Act and detailed in Enniscorthy Garda station for 2 days. During that time he said nothing about Catherine Nevin asking him to murder her husband, indeed he said the exact opposite. He said:
“Catherine Nevin never asked me to kill Tom. I was never approached by anyone to do it for her. She could have got that fellow, Willie (William McClean) that she was having an affair with to do it”.
On his release he took a train back to Dublin. A day alter he contacted the gardaí again and made a statement assaying she had suborned him to kill Tom Nevin.
Under cross examination by Paddy McEntee SC he said his job was doing security work at pubs and nightclubs.
Asked why he did not tell Tom Nevin what his wife was proposing he said: “I just did not”. He said he informed other people of his contacts with Catherine Nevin. Asked who these people were he said (this is taken from the transcript of day 13, staring on page 70):
A: “A couple of fellows in a pool hall”.
Q: “Who were they?”
A: “I don't know their first names, in the pool hall its is all just nick names and first names”….
Q: “You say you just went to the pool hall and told it casually to people who happened to be playing pool in the pool hall?”
A: “Yes, that is right”.
Q: “These people thought there was a wind up (ie that Catherine Nevin was merely playing a ruse on Gerry Heapes)”?
A: “Yes. Until they came back and I was told to get as much detail of her and report back”.
Q: “Are you serious”?
Q: “These two nameless people in the pool hall”?
A: “Insofar as I remember I was racking my brains”.
Q: “We will do without the commentary. Tell us what you were about to say”?
A: “I was trying to find out their real names”.
Q: “Tell us”.
A: “It was Redser and Macker”.
Q: “There was Redser and Macker”.
A: “And a couple of others. I can't remember them offhand”.
Later Gerry Heapes said that Redser and Macker said they were going to take steps to stop the plan to murder Tom Nevin.
Paddy McEntee quoted from a statement Gerry Heapes had made to the gardaí after the murder or Tom Nevin: “A few days later (after his discussions with Redser and Macker) I hear that some people had either gone to Catherine at Jack White's or had brought her to Dublin and told her that they knew what she was up to and that it was over and if they heard that she was making an approach to anyone else to have Tom Nevin murdered they would go and inform Tom and deal with here and whoever she got in contact with”. He asked:
Q: “And was that Redser and Macker again”?
Q: “Redser and Macker at that stage had decided that they would take the law into their own hands?”
On day 14 of the trial the following exchanges occurred (starting on page 3):
Q: “Did (Redser and Macker) come back to you a few days later and say they had looked after that”.
Q: “Did you believe these people”?.
Q: “You are relating this to the police (in the statement he made) as it were the truth and you believed it but you now tell us you didn't believe it”?
A: “I was relating to the police. I made a statement to the police of everything I knew”.
Q: “You certainly were not telling the police that it was Redser and Mickser (by that stage Paddy McEntee was referring to Macker as Mickser). You were giving the clear impression to the police that this is something that they might take seriously”.
In his statement to the gardaí in July 2000 Gerry Heapes told of another visit to Jack White's, this time to make enquiries about property in the area that might be for sale. In his evidence in court he claimed to have no recollection of this at all.
* It is difficult to see how a jury could believe “beyond reasonable doubt” that Gerry Heapes evidence was credible at all, given the claims about Redser and Macker or Mickser, about which, clearly, he was lying.
* In his first interview with the gardaí he explicitly denied Catherine Nevin every asked him to kill her husband.
* Likewise it is difficult to see how the jury could have accepted the veracity of his second statement to the gardaí where he first claimed Catherine Nevin had suborned him, when, in the same statement he conveyed to the Gardaí that those to whom he was reporting (Redser and Macker) to were sorting out the affair.
* He acknowledged he was a conman and a trickster and had gone to Wicklow to con money from Catherine Nevin.
* He made several other claims in his evidence – including claims that he was asked to become a director of a property/pub company – which were not believable.
* There is also the point that it is hardly believable that Catherine Nevin would ask someone to murder her husband, knowing that this person might well go immediately to her husband and inform him of the request.
He gave evidence on days 14 and 15.
He is the most intriguing of the witnesses and his background is curious. He has been a prime focus for “Justice for the Forgotten” lobby which has been campaigning for a public enquiry into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. There is no suggestion that William McClean had any culpability for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 but that he had given informed about the bombings in advance to gardaí and that, during some periods at least, he was a Garda informer.
In the report of the investigating by Mr Justice Henry Barron into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974 there is the following paragraph:
“General enquiries in Dublin brought to light a man who had stayed at the Four Courts Hotel from 10 to 16 May 1974. During that time he apparently made a number of phone calls and sent telegrams to Belfast and London. Suspicion focused on this man because of his known friendship with Joseph Stewart Young, an active member of the mid-Ulster UVF, and the fact that he left the night before 17 May without paying his bill. However, Garda enquiries failed to trace him, and attempts to follow up the various communications he had made led nowhere. In February 2000, the same man turned up as a witness in a murder trial in the State. He was traced and interviewed informally by Gardaí. Information received from that interview was conveyed to the Inquiry in a letter dated 30 September 2003. Garda inquiries are continuing”. (Barron report, p age 73).
Some members of the Justice for the Forgotten believe that this is a reference to William McClean and the reference to this man giving evidence in a murder trial in 2000 adds weight to the claim.
Coincidentally, the barrister who defended Catherine Nevin in the murder trial, Patrick McEntee, SC, was asked by the government to follow up the investigation of Mr Justice Barron on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. In his report on this, which was published some months ago, an entire chapter ahs been excised from the published version and it is understood this chapter deals in part with the role of William McClean. Again, there is no suggestion that William McClean had any culpability for the bombings, indeed the reverse in that he may have informed gardaí in advance of the imminence of the bombings.
The fact that the Garda file on him was not made available for the Catherine Nevin trial may raise doubts in the minds of other courts that a fair trial was denied. Had he been cross examined on the material that became available to Mr Justice Barron and later Patrick McEntee, the jury might have taken a different view of the reliability of his evidence.
In writing this we are making no insinuation about William McClean. The fact that he has lived openly here for decades suggests that he has nothing to hide in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
He was born on 13 June 1951 at Ballinode, Co.Monaghan. By 1974 he had two convictions for criminal activity. He said in evidence at the Catherine Nevin case that he first met her in late 1984 or early 1985 in the Red Cow Inn on the Naas Rd, Dublin. He said they just got talking and “it went from there”. He claimed to have had a sexual relationship with her from around August 1986. At the time she was living in Green Park. He claimed that later on Tom Nevin knew of his relationship with Catherine Nevin. He said Tom Nevin came into the bedroom one morning and saw him and Catherine in bed. He simply asked for keys of one of the flats. McClean says Catherine Nevin replied they keys were on the kitchen table and Tom Nevin simply closed the door. He said Tom Nevin never raised the issue with him subsequently. In a statement to gardaí he said the relationship ended after a few months.
He said he arranged for the removal of the Nevin's furniture from Green Park to Jack White's in 1986 and attended the opening night and went down “a good few times” afterwards, during which he helped at the bar occasionally on an ex-gratia basis. He said that after a break of a few years he went down again to Jack White's around Christmas 1989 or early 1990. He was with his then girlfriend at the time. They had a meal and as he was going to the toilets at one stage Catherine Nevin asked him for a contact phone number. He said he told her the only way he could be contacted was at a pub, in which he drank, The Irish House, in Harold's Cross, Dublin.
He said that he got a call there some time afterwards from Catherine Nevin who, at the time was in St Vincent's private hospital. She asked him to visit her in the hospital, which he did. He said she asked him if it would be possible to get someone to kill her husband and she mentioned a payoff or £20,000. He said he asked her why she would do that and she replied: “I will get the insurance money, the lot, everything”.
He said his response was “no fucking way” and he got up and walked out.
Subsequently on St Patrick's Day in 1993 he called into Jack White's and had a few drinks.
Asked if he had known Tom Nevin, he replied “reasonably”.
He acknowledged that in statements to gardaí and in his evidence on depositions he never made any reference to Catherine Nevin wanting to kill her husband to get the insurance money.
* Would the jury have had a different view of his reliability as a witness had they known of the material concerning McClean in relation to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings? The judge in the Catherine Nevin case, the late Mella Carroll, did examine the Garda files on McClean, Jones and Heapes and held they were not relevant – the Central Criminal Court did likewise in connection with Catherine Nevins's appeal and found likewise. But the material made available to Mr Justice Barron seems to be new material and might therefore be relevant.
* There is also the point about the risk that Catherine Nevin was going to in asking William McClean to murder her husband. Because he had reasonable relations with Tom Nevin he might well have contacted him and said what was being propositioned.
* Why would Catherine Nevin have thought William McClean would be in the business of murdering somebody?
Whether Catherine Nevin was involved in the murder of her husband is not at issue in this analysis. The issue is whether it was safe to convict her on the evidence of these three witnesses.
* The evidence of John Jones was discredited by his claim he knew no one in the IRA and had no means of tipping off the IRA about his apprehensions that Catherine Nevin might have been attempting to set-up the organisation.
* The evidence of Gerry Heapes was discredited comprehensively by the ludicrous claims he made about being directed by two pool hall acquaintances, whom he knew only as Redser and Macker or Mickser, on his dealings with Catherine Nevin.
* The evidence of William McClean might have been treated very differently by the jury had it known of William McClean's curious relations with the gardaí and his involvement in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings (an involvement which included no culpability for what happened then, indeed almost certainly quite the reverse).
There are other dimensions to the case which add to the doubts about the reliability of her conviction but because these arose from conversations with her, we are not at liberty to disclose them now. π