James Smyth acquitted of 1994 sectarian murders of Catholic workmen in Belfast

Former UDR man found not guilty of murders of Eamon Fox (41) and Gary Convie (24)

Former UDR man James Smyth has been acquitted of the May 1994 sectarian murders of two Catholic workmen.

Eamon Fox (41) and Gary Convie (24) had been working on a building site in North Queen Street and were sitting in a car eating their lunch when the vehicle was riddled with bullets.

James ‘Jimmy Shades’ Smyth from Forthriver Link in Belfast stood trial on five charges arising from the murder, which he denied.

Today Mr Justice O’Hara ruled: “However suspicious I am that he was the gunman, I must acquit on all counts because I cannot be sure of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”


Regarding the fatal shooting, Mr Justice O’Hara said: “The only reason this attack took place was that the workmen were Catholics who were working at a time of sectarian tensions on a site in what would be regarded in our divided society as a loyalist area.

“The victims were not in any way sinister, they were not in any way threatening, they were not in any way dangerous.

“They were just Catholics, but in the eyes of the UVF that was enough to make them targets.”

Mr Justice O’Hara said he has carefully considered all the evidence in the case.

This included DNA evidence which linked Mr Smyth (57) to a Barbour jacket found alongside the Sten submachine gun used to murder the workmen.

Mr Justice O’Hara said that whilst he was satisfied from DNA evidence that Mr Smyth “must have worn the jacket”, it had not been established if this was the jacket worn by the gunman.

The Judge then raised evidence given by Gary Haggarty, who gave a detailed account in court of the May 1994 murders and who implicated Mr Smyth as the gunman.

He said: “Whilst this case could not have been brought without Haggarty’s evidence, which is the only direct evidence that the defendant was the gunman, unfortunately Haggarty is a deeply flawed individual – a murderer who will lie and deceive and mislead at the slightest opportunity.”

Regarding Mr Smyth’s bad character, Mr Justice O’Hara said this included a conviction for a sectarian murder in January 1994.

Mr Smyth was one of two men who entered a house in Ballymena, murdered a man then tried to kill his wife as she came to her husband’s assistance.

The judge said this suggested Mr Smyth was “just happy to murder Catholics for being Catholics.”

Saying whether Mr Smyth was the gunman was “at the heart of the case”, the Judge spoke of inconsistencies between the eye witness reports and Mr Smyth’s height.

Mr Justice O’Hara concluded by saying that after looking all the evidence, he was not satisfied beyond reasonable that Mr Smyth was the gunman.

Mr Smyth – who wore a Linfield FC T-shirt in the dock – was cleared of the murders of Mr Convie and Mr Fox on May 17th, 1994 Smyth has also the attempted murder of a third workman on the same date.

He was also acquitted of possessing a Sten submachine gun and a quantity of ammunition with intent, and of being a member of the UVF.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here