DISSIDENT republican Brian Shivers, who is terminally ill, was convicted today of murdering two British soldiers outside an army base in Northern Ireland. His co-defendent Colin Duffy, a high-profile republican, was cleared of the same charges.
Shivers (46) who is dying from cystic fibrosis, was found guilty 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 Real IRA at the gates of Massereene barracks in Antrim on March 7 2009.
Judge Anthony Hart told the court 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 non-jury trial lasted six weeks. It ended just before Christmas and Mr Justice Hart took four weeks to consider his verdicts.
The soldiers from the 38 Engineer Regiment were about to begin a tour of duty in Afghanistan when they were gunned down in an attack by republican extremists opposed to the Good Friday peace deal of 1998.
The victims, 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.
The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the shootings to then Sunday Tribune journalist Suzanne Breen.
THE PSNI subsequently sought to force her to reveal her sources, but lost the action in the High Court in Belfast.
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.
It is the second time Duffy has been cleared of murder.
The 44-year-old first hit the headlines 20 years ago after he was cleared of an IRA murder.
An IRA gunman on a bicycle shot former soldier John Lyness, 57, in Lurgan in June 1993.
Duffy, described in court as an unemployed labourer, was subsequently convicted of the murder. But the prosecution case hinged on the testimony of anonymous witnesses who gave evidence from behind a curtain - and in particular on the evidence of a man known only as Witness C.
He turned out to be Lindsay Robb, who was subsequently jailed after police in Scotland smashed a UVF gun-running plot in July 1995.
Following a public campaign for his release, backed by nationalist political leaders here and in Northern Ireland, Duffy's conviction was quashed because the prosecution could no longer rely on a star witness publicly revealed to be a loyalist paramilitary.
Duffy walked from the Court of Appeal in Belfast a free man and later gave an impromptu press conference outside the gates of the High Court, alleging police wrongdoing and insisting he was innocent.
Three years earlier, Duffy, then aged 22, was caught up in a loyalist gun attack that remains, to this day, shrouded in controversy.
He and two other republicans were reporting to Lurgan's Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station to sign in as part of bail conditions on charges of possession of ammunition.
The trio were followed by a red Maestro car, later revealed to be a military intelligence vehicle, before a second car also appeared on the scene.
Two masked men armed with AK-47 assault rifles stepped out of the second vehicle and pursued the three republicans.
Amid a hail of bullets, a friend of Duffy called Sam Marshall was wounded and fell to the ground. One of the gunmen stood over the 31-year-old and levelled the weapon at his head. A witness claimed: "He faced the masked man, and the masked man killed him."
Duffy escaped the murder bid launched by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), but the alleged security force link saw Sinn Fein call for a full inquiry at the time.
In 1997, Duffy faced more murder charges after two police officers on foot patrol were shot around midday in the centre of Lurgan.
Constable John Graham and Reserve Constable David Johnston were both in their 30s and married with young children.
Duffy was arrested by police who claimed a witness linked him to the killing.
But the case collapsed after other witnesses came forward in defence of Duffy.
Judge Hart said Shivers had invented an alibi for his movements on the night of the attack and said he was satisfied that DNA found on matchsticks recovered from the partially burnt-out getaway car proved he was the one who tried to set fire to it.
"Taking all of these matters together, I am satisfied that the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Shivers set fire to the Cavalier at Ranaghan Road (where the car was abandoned) and I therefore find him guilty on each count," said the judge.
Before a silent courtroom, Shivers rose to his feet in the dock as the judge passed sentence.
"There is only one penalty that I can impose upon you," he said.
"And that is one of life imprisonment, which I now do. I now sentence you to life imprisonment."