A HIGH-PROFILE republican was cleared today of murdering two British soldiers outside an Army base in Northern Ireland.
Colin Duffy was acquitted at Antrim Crown Court of the killings of Sappers Patrick Azimkar, (21), from London, and Mark Quinsey, (23), from Birmingham, who were ambushed by gunmen from the dissident republican Real IRA at the gates of Massereene barracks in Antrim on March 7 2009.
A decision is awaited on the second defendant, Brian Shivers, (46), from Sperrin Mews in Magherafelt, Co Derry.
Duffy, (44) from Forest Glade in Lurgan, Co Armagh, and Shivers denied the murder charges and six further counts of attempted murder.
The troops from 38 Engineer Regiment were about to begin a tour of duty in Afghanistan when they were gunned down in an attack by the Real IRA group, which opposes the Good Friday peace deal of 1998.
The soldiers, who were wearing their desert fatigues and were within hours of leaving the base, were collecting pizzas at the front gate when they came under fire.
Four other people, including two pizza delivery drivers, were injured in the gun attack.
A green Vauxhall Cavalier car thought to have been used by the gang was found abandoned in a rural location eight miles away.
The gunmen set light to the car, but it did not burn out. DNA evidence recovered from it formed the basis for the trial of the two accused.
Judge Anthony Hart told the court today that he was satisfied that Duffy's DNA was found on a latex glove tip inside the car and on a seat buckle but he said the prosecution had failed to link the defendant to the murder plot.
He said: "I consider that there is insufficient evidence to satisfy me beyond reasonable doubt that whatever Duffy may have done when he wore the latex glove, or touched the seatbelt buckle, meant that he was preparing the car in some way for this murderous attack. And I therefore find him not guilty."
The judge said the soldiers had been murdered in a hail of gunfire - with the killers firing on the men as the lay injured on the ground.
Pizza delivery men bringing food to the base had also been injured by the gang.
"They were determined to kill as many people as possible," said the judge.
He added: "The gunmen and the driver of the car, as a participant in the attack, were clearly guilty of murder and attempted murder."
He recounted how an audio clip linked to a mobile phone in the getaway car featured an associate of the killers saying: "There was a few dead alright. Have to say boys you were cool as f***."
He recounted how the vehicle was dumped and a failed attempt made to burn it.
The judge accepted that the DNA subsequently identified was Duffy's, but he examined other evidence.
Experts had estimated the gunmen were over 6ft tall - taller than Duffy.
This and other factors supported claims Duffy was not in the car.
He went on to reject the inference that the glove tip was a fabrication to implicate Duffy.
But the prosecution had failed to establish the reason for the republican's DNA being present in a way which satisfactorily linked him to the murder.