Lawyers representing three men jailed for the sectarian killing of a Catholic teenager nearly 50 years ago have secured a date for a legal bid to clear their names. George Kirkpatrick and brothers Eric and Cyril Cullen were all convicted of murdering Francis Rice near Castlewellan, Co Down. The 17-year-old victim had been abducted and stabbed to death before his body was dumped in a laneway in March 1975.
His killing was claimed by the Protestant Action Force - a cover name for the Ulster Volunteer Force. In 1981 Kirkpatrick and the Cullens received life sentences after being found guilty of kidnapping, falsely imprisoning and murdering the teenager. Known as the Castlewellan Three, they have always claimed that false confessions were extracted from them during police interviews. Even though George Kirkpatrick and Cyril Cullen have both since died, the safety of all three men’s convictions is set to come under fresh scrutiny. A body which examines potential miscarriages of justice has questioned the credibility of some RUC officers involved in the interview process. According to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the same members of the force came under judicial criticism for rewriting interview notes used to convict four other men of a separate Troubles-era murder. With the credibility of those investigating officers believed to be “substantially weakened”, the CCRC has referred the convictions of the Castlewellan Three to the Court of Appeal. Disciplinary findings against the former RUC officers is set to feature in the legal challenge. In court on Thursday, Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan agreed to list the case for a full hearing. She set aside two days in January next year to deal with the appeal.
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