Sentence of Death Passed on Faithful Servant of the Law; Lara Bradley Looks Back on the History of Crumlin Road Courthouse

By Bradley, Lara | The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), June 18, 1998 | Go to article overview

Sentence of Death Passed on Faithful Servant of the Law; Lara Bradley Looks Back on the History of Crumlin Road Courthouse


Bradley, Lara, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


WHEN Belfast's legal eagles gather up their wigs and briefs and take their leave of Crumlin Road Courthouse for the final time later this month, it will bring to a close one of the most colourful chapters in the history of the city.

The 148-year-old building has a history littered with tales of strange characters and even stranger behaviour - on both sides of the bench.

Justice, it is often said, must not only be done but also be seen to be done and as such some of the Province's most seasoned journalists were among the court's regular attendees.

On one occasion, however, the then Lord Chief Justice MacDermott took the dramatic decision to throw all the Press out of court.

The reason for his actions had nothing to do with national security, though, or protection of a vulnerable witness. It was because the assembled reporters had been noisily making their way through a packet of 'Spangles' sweets.

Mr Justice MacDermott dismissed the perplexed scribblers with the reprimand: "If your parents didn't teach you manners, I will."

Lord Justice Shiel was a much more popular judge with the newspapermen with his constant reminders to witnesses to "speak up" so the Press would not miss any detail for their stories.

Another judge, whose name history does not record, once ran out of the court during a case. The clerk followed and found him in his room stark naked complaining that there had been a flea in his cloak.

There is, however, a much darker side to the history of the imposing building.

Ronnie Appleton, QC, was the Senior Prosecutor from 1974 until 1997, and found it "a very depressing place".

He explained: "For almost 150 years there was a constant stream of bereaved relatives in the courthouse and there were people sentenced to death in there.

"From the outside it is an interesting piece of Victoriana but some very serious and disturbing cases passed through it."

He found the horrific Shankill Road Fish Shop and McGurk's Bar bombings particularly upsetting as "so many people, including children, were killed".

Mr Appleton has vivid memories of the infamous supergrass trials when up to 38 defendants were lined up around the courtroom guarded by a police marksman at each corner. …

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