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BLACK WIDOW APPEAL LAWYERS SAY NEVIN IS.. NO TART & NO FEMME FATALE; First day of case hears she was portrayed as an 'evil stepmother'.

Byline: DECLAN FAHY

BLACK Widow murderer Catherine Nevin was portrayed in the media as a "tart" and a sinister "femme fatale", her lawyers told a court yesterday.

The 51-year-old was unfairly made out in the press as an "evil stepmother" who shared her affections with several people, the Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin heard.

Nevin, serving a life sentence for her part in the murder of her 54-year-old husband Tom, was not at the packed courtroom as she began her legal challenge to get her conviction quashed.

Her barrister Patrick MacEntee told the court that gardai had leaked crucial information to the press in order to condition the public that she hired a contract killer to murder him.

Mr MacEntee claimed that such a trial-by-media made it impossible for Nevin to receive a fair hearing.

MacEntee said: "My client was made into a black, sinister figure with powerful friends. She was portrayed in a series of cheap caricatures as an evil stepmother.

"Catherine Nevin was painted as a dangerous, insecure lady, who has no emotion, or appropriate emotions, or who falsifies her emotions.

"It made her into a worthless creature. Not a human being. Some sort of tart."

Mr MacEntee added it was alleged she "shared her affections" with a number of people and was called a "bottle blonde queen".

Relatives of Tom Nevin were present at the hearing yesterday, along with a crowded press gallery that was packed before the 11am start of the case.

Nevin's defence team went on to claim that Tom Nevin, who was shot dead at Jack White's pub in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, in March 1996, was described in press reports at the time as a "lovable" man.

Mr MacEntee told the three presiding judge: "Tom Nevin was depicted in a caricature of an easy going, much loved, country man.

"He was a hard working man, while she was a big-time spender.

"These articles were from nursery rhymes, the lady with the long, red fingers and the woolly, nice, kind old man."

And he said the media were obsessed with all aspects of Nevin's appearance and behaviour in court, including her jewellery, manicured hands and what she was reading.

Mr MacEntee said: "There was an obsessive interest in what she wore.

"This led to a vulgarisation and depersonalisation of Ms Nevin, depicting her as a clothes peg."

The barrister added that a ban on reporting on Nevin's appearance by the initial trial judge Mella Carroll came too late to minimise the damage already inflicted.

Interest in the trial was so big that it effectively became a "three-ring circus". Nevin was jailed for life in April 2000 after she was found guilty of murder and soliciting three men to murder her husband.

During the high-profile case, the longest in Irish legal history, two juries were discharged and 182 witnesses heard before a third jury delivered the guilty verdict.

But Mr MacEntee said gardai were responsible for a series of revelations in the media which constituted a "serious abuse" of the trial process.

He added: "The trial was an extremely stressful one for everyone concerned, but most importantly for Ms Nevin.

"The purpose of giving journalists access to material was to circulate and allow to enter into the public mind the theory that Mr Nevin was killed by way of a contract killing as opposed to a robbery."

Tom Nevin died at the end of St Patrick's weekend celebrations in 1996 in the popular pub which the couple ran together.

He was shot dead as he counted the takings from the weekend, in what the prosecution later called a botched robbery designed to conceal a contract killing carried out at Nevin's bidding.

Nevin is also appealing her conviction on three counts of soliciting three men to kill her husband in 1989 and 1990, six years before his murder.

She is serving her life term and a total of seven years on the soliciting charges in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison.

Mr MacEntee also insisted the amount of coverage since the murder has meant there was a "real and substantial risk of bias" in the minds of potential jurors.

A total of 20 grounds of appeal have been lodged by Nevin's lawyers, including adverse publicity, the refusal to allow separate trials on the murder and soliciting charges and circumstantial evidence at the trial.

Other grounds relate to an alleged inadequate disclose of documents, including the failure to disclose Special Branch or security files on three men solicited to kill Tom Nevin, Gerry Heapes, John Jones and William McClean.

But the cornerstone of the appeal rests on the claim by Mr MacEntee that the effect of articles in both the national and regional media was that jurors were likely to have been influenced.

The barrister said: "It's purpose can only be to prejudice a fair trial by giving information to the public at large, including jurors."

He added that the gardai were at fault for the leaks, and not the media.

He said: "I am not at all saying that the newspapers did anything wrong - the newspapers got the story and published it.

"The abuse is by the gardai who leaked the files or the content of the files to the media.

"Officers had no legal entitlement to leak information to the press."

He went on to argue it would be impossible to tell who was influenced, who remembered newspaper articles and what they remembered, but that there was a "substantial risk" of prejudice.

Referring the life term and three concurrent sentences of seven years imposed on Nevin on dates between 1989 and 1990, Mr MacEntee said it was wrong to have three trials in so short a space.

He said the original trial should have been held back to allow the "fade factor" to come into force.

It's alleged this would have enabled enough time so the details and claims of the Nevin saga would pass from public conscious.

Lawyers for the Director of Public Prosecutions are opposing the appeal by the "Black Widow", launched by her legal advisers on her behalf.

The case, which is expected to last several days, continues today.

CAPTION(S):

SCENE: Jack White's pub in Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow; VICTIM: Tom Nevin, 54, killed in pub he ran with his wife; CHALLENGE: Advisers for Black Widow murderer Catherine Nevin, 51, right, launched her appeal in Dublin yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 12, 2003
Words:1064
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