MI5 agent forced to give evidence

26 June 2009
The Irish News
Barry McCaffrey

A MI5 agent will be arrested and forced to appear in court if he refuses to give evidence at the trial of two Co Armagh men accused of Real IRA weapons-smuggling, Belfast Magistrates Court heard yesterday. Lurgan men Desmond Kearns (44) and Paul Anthony McCaugherty (43) are due to go on trial later this year in connection with an alleged plot to ship arms to the north from mainland Europe between May 2005 and June 2006. They were arrested after a three-year MI5 'sting' involving two undercover agents codenamed 'Amir' and 'Ali'.

The court was told that Amir had been employed by security services to befriend Mr Kearns and his wife Alison during trips to Europe to buy cigarettes in 2004. During the next three years he met the couple in various locations across Europe. The prosecution claims Mr Kearns, of Tannaghmore Green, and Mr McCaugherty of Beech Court, both in Lurgan, later attempted to use Amir and Ali to buy arms behalf of the Real IRA. Both men were arrested in June 2006 and charged with attempting to purchase weapons and explosives.

But a prosecution lawyer said yesterday that Amir now refuses to give evidence and says MI5 betrayed him. In a highly unusual move, barrister David McDowell told the court MI5 now accepted it had misled its agent when it gave assurances that he would never have to appear at trial.

Amir claims he was first asked by his MI5 bosses in 2005 if he would give evidence against the two suspects. He says he made it "absolutely clear" he did not want to do so. "In May 2005 I was assured that I would not have to give evidence by members of the security services and I was further assured that if the investigation progressed I would be removed from my role and replaced by another player," he said in a statement submitted to the trial.

In a bizarre account, the MI5 agent claimed he was encouraged to introduce the Kearns to a 'weapons expert' as part of a leaving present for a senior member of the security services.

District Judge Eamon King said the prosecution had insisted Amir would be compelled to give evidence despite his obvious objections and had "told the court they can issue a summons to arrest him and bring him to the trial".

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