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Appeals Court Overturns Conviction in IRA Mistaken Identity Slayings

July 5, 1991

DEN BOSCH, Netherlands (AP) _ An appeals court today threw out the murder conviction of a suspected IRA member in the mistaken-identity slayings of two Australian tourists, Dutch television reported.

Gerard Harte, 27, of Lurgan, Northern Ireland, was sentenced in April to 18 years in prison for the May 27, 1990, assassinations of Australian lawyers Nick Spanos and Stephen Melrose in the southern Dutch town of Roermond, on the German border.

In the first-ever IRA trial in the Netherlands, Harte’s co-defendants Sean Hick, 30, of Dublin, Ireland; Paul Hughes, 27, of Newry, Northern Ireland; and Donna Maguire, 24, also of Newry were acquitted of the slayings.

Dutch television said Harte’s conviction was overturned and the three acquittals upheld for a lack of evidence. Harte had appealed his conviction and the prosecution had appealed the acquittals.

All four denied being members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which claimed responsibility for the murders but said it had mistaken the victims for British soldiers.

Roermond is a common recreation destination for British soldiers based across the border in Germany. Spanos and Melrose, London-based lawyers, were driving a British-registered car.

They were shot at point-blank range after returning to their car from dinner, accompanied by Melrose’s wife and Spanos’ girlfriend.

The crime evoked widespread horror in this tourism-consious nation, which has seen a series of IRA attacks against British targets over the past decade.

The mainly Catholic IRA is fighting to oust Britain from mainly protestant Northern Ireland which it wants reunited with the Irish republic to the south.

Germany has requested the extradition of Maguire, Hick and Hughes for a series of IRA attacks against British targets there.

The four are still awaiting a retrial verdict in Roermond on charges of membership in an illegal organization. A ruling is due July 12.

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