A man who was left for dead by the gang that killed Robert McCartney has denied that he started the row in Magennis's bar and rejected claims that he hasn't told police all he knows.
In his first full interview since 31 January 2005, Brendan Devine also alleges that there has been intelligence service interference that protected a senior republican from investigation Both he and Catherine McCartney, Robert's sister suspect the man is an informer.
McCartney was stabbed to death outside the Belfast bar by a gang which is believed to have included members of the IRA. They were drinking in the pub after a Bloody Sunday demonstration in Londonderry. The murder, one of the most controversial of recent years in Northern Ireland, caused huge political difficulties for Sinn Féin and a serious setback to the peace process.
Devine, a North Belfast businessman who was with McCartney when he died, says he is willing to give evidence against Gerard "Jock" Davison whose nephew Terence has been charged with the killing. Davison admits being in the bar but has denied claims by the McCartney family that he encouraged the murder gang to "do what you want" with McCartney and Devine or made a cut throat gesture.
Devine says Davison did gesture with his hand. "He did something along the lines of a finger across the neck. Afterwards a man who attacked Robert got into the car with Jock and the two of them drove off."
Devine has taken issue with parts of a recent book by Catherine McCartney, Robert's sister, in which she suggests that he did not tell the police all he knew. "I understand where Robert's sisters are coming from but he was my best friend and I have told the complete truth from the word go." A former cocaine addict, Devine says he had stopped taking drugs about 18 months before the murder, and he denies Catherine McCartney's claim that he was due to meet the IRA about a drug debt.
He points out that he was 19st at the time, while regular cocaine users usually lose weight.
Devine was facing assault charges and was under a curfew as part of his bail conditions at the time of the attack. "Bert phoned me at around 7 and I agreed to meet him anyway. Aisling my girlfriend drove me down," said Devine, who points out that his bail conditions would have deterred him from getting into a fight or doing anything to bring himself to police attention.
He had been charged with assaulting a doorman who had denied him and Hugh "Apple goat" McCormick, a member of a well-known republican family, entrance to a club some months earlier. In a statement to police Devine had admitted hitting the man and made it clear that McCormick had stabbed him. Some republicans regarded this as tantamount informing and several friends of McCormick McCormick were in Maginnis's bar.
Devine says the row that preceded McCartney's murder started when the wife of a senior republican, who was amongst about four women at a nearby table, accused McCartney of making an obscene hand signal. "I believe he was making the wanker sign about Celtic and saying Liverpool was the best team. I didn't see it but he had been doing that earlier on," said Devine.
The woman's husband approached McCartney and demanded an apology. According to Catherine McCartney they settled it with a handshake but Devine says the republican and his wife were still angry. Devine says he went over to try and cool things down, offering to buy the women a drink, apologising for any misunderstanding. "One man called me a police-informing bastard and told me to mind my own effing business," said Devine. He swung round with his hands outstretched and was then grabbed from behind and had his throat cut with a broken bottle.
A crowd of about 60 or 70 people then spilled onto the street from the bar and Devine stood with McCartney and Ed Gowdy, another friend, holding a towel to his throat to staunch the bleeding. Gowdy a local, warned him not to argue with a number of senior republicans or get into a fight with them.
"I thought they wouldn't do anything more because there were [closed circuit] cameras everywhere. The bar was outside the courthouse," he said.
A woman with blonde hair, one of the group who had been drinking with the senior republican's wife, came out of the bar and started screaming. "She said 'that fellow has done nothing' and talked to me. I am appealing for that girl to come forward. She has blond curly hair and was about 40," Devine said.
"She had a high-pitched scream and once she did that it started me off shouting and bawling 'youse are animals, you cowardly bunch of dogs'."
"I shouted 'who is Jock Davison, who cut my throat' and then threats started coming from all directions. As soon as I mentioned Jock Davison's name they all started shouting, 'you are dead, you are a tout.'."
He and McCartney were attacked and stabbed as they walked up an alley towards the main road, intending to make their way to a hospital. In his account McCartney collapsed on two occasions.
"The man who knifed me; he had bad teeth and an evil grin" said Devine who has recently recognised his attacker.
"I felt I had to get going although I was bleeding. I walked out of the entry onto the road and I turned round and saw two guys over Bert and I said 'leave him alone'. My legs gave way and I fell twice. I saw Bert's head. Your man was gouging his face" he said naming a man who cannot be identified for legal reasons.
"I slapped Bert in the face and pinched him to try to bring him round and I got him up and the two of us were walking along with his arm round my shoulder. I told him I am stabbed and I am in trouble and I let him go."
He described two occasions on which McCartney collapsed.
Devine's last memory of his friend was of the two of them huddled together at the roadside weakened by loss of blood. "I was looking into his face saying 'come on Bert, get up, and don't let the bastards do this, come on. He said 'I am going to have to go here; I am not going to make it.' I lay down beside him and passed out."
He believes the driver of a blue car which revved up nearby witnessed the events preceding this.
Afterwards Devine had three meetings with IRA representatives who were conducting their own inquiry into the killing. "They told me to do whatever I wanted. They didn't try to stop me giving evidence to the police but when Jock's name came up they stuck up for him," Devine said.