The family of Robert McCartney has vowed to continue their fight to have those responsible for his death brought to justice.

Earlier today three men were acquitted of charges relating to Mr McCartney's death, including one charge of murder.

In a statement the PSNI said it was considering its investigative options regarding the case.

In a lengthy judgement, Mr Justice Gillen detailed the reasons why he felt the prosecution case against Terence Davison, James McCormick and Joseph Fitzpatrick was not sufficient to convict any of the three on charges relating to the death of Robert McCartney.

He explained that he had not been satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that 51-year-old Davison was the man who fatally stabbed Mr McCartney because there were a number of inconsistencies in the evidence of the prosecution's three witnesses.

In acquitting the three men of the charge of affray, Mr Justice Gillen again referred to the unreliability and flaws in witness accounts.

In conclusion Mr Justice Gillen warned that if new evidence emerged in the investigation, no one including the three defendants would be beyond the reach of future prosecution.

The 33-year-old father of two died after being beaten and stabbed outside Magennis's bar in Belfast city centre on 30 January 2005.

His friend Brendan Devine was also stabbed but survived.

Fight for justice

Mr McCartney's murder attracted international attention as his five sisters and his partner, Bridgeen Hagans, sought to have his killers brought to justice.

They claimed that senior IRA members were involved in the murder after a fight broke out in the bar and that evidence was destroyed in a clean-up operation.

Mr McCartney's family exerted enormous pressure on the Republican movement and weeks after the killing, the IRA offered to shoot those responsible.

Senior US politicians publicly backed the McCartneys' campaign and in March 2005 several leading figures, including Senators Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd, welcomed them to Washington but declined the opportunity to meet Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Leading Sinn Féin members, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, encouraged anyone with information to assist the PSNI investigation.

At one stage Sinn Féin suspended several members who had been present in the Belfast bar on the night of the row.

The McCartney family has always claimed that as many as a dozen people were involved in the murder and cover-up.

Family 'not surprised'

Speaking outside the court, Mr McCartney’s sister Catherine was adamant that their efforts to bring those responsible to justice would continue.

Mr McCartney's sisters expressed disappointment at the verdict but said they were not surprised.

Catherine McCartney said that they would not have convicted either on the evidence they heard in court.

She said: 'We are not surprised by it, that would be the truth, we hadn't got very high expectations.

'Listening to the evidence put before the judge I believe he made the right decision, I believe his conclusions were correct given the evidence put before him.'

She said the blame lay firmly with the IRA and Sinn Féin who, she said, 'from day one have obstructed the course of justice and continue to do so'.

'We believe there is still a body of evidence out there that can still be brought forward and we expect Sinn Féin to do what they said they can do despite their having refused to do so up to date.

'Despite saying to the police they would cooperate they have not cooperated whatsoever.'

Declaring 'it is not over', she said she now expected Sinn Féin in the new political dispensation to cooperate with the investigation. She praised Witness C as 'being one of the most brave and courageous people in this whole three-and-a-half years'.

She said she would always be indebted to the unnamed woman: 'I think she did her best and did a very decent thing.'

Despite the family's disappointment at the failure to secure a conviction, Ms McCartney added: 'As a lay person sitting in that court listening to the evidence we have heard, would I have put someone away on that evidence? No.

'I wouldn't have so I can't expect the judge to do so.'

Listen to Catherine McCartney's reaction to the verdict