MI5 agent 'Met Real IRA suspect'

7 May 2010
Jilly Beattie
Evidence tells of smuggle plot

An MI5 spook started giving evidence yesterday in the trial of three men charged in connection with "an international arms smuggling plot". The witness was hidden from view from everyone in Belfast Crown Court except the judge Mr Justice Hart and lawyers.

The witness, referred to as Amir, did not reveal which branch of the security services he was working for but at an earlier hearing the court was told the operation was part of an MI5 sting against the Real IRA. The accused, Paul McCaugherty, 43, and Desmond Kearns, 44, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, and 41-year-old Dermot Gregory, also known as Michael Dermot, from Crossmaglen, deny a total of seven charges.

Mr McCaugherty faces all seven charges, including conspiring to possess firearms and explosives and using almost EUR46,000 for terrorist purposes, membership of IRA and making the deeds of a Portuguese restaurant available for the purposes of terrorism.

Kearns is accused of conspiring to possess firearms and explosives, while Gregory is accused of making the deeds of the restaurant in Portugal available for the purposes of terrorism.

The British agent told the court that he started work in August 2004 in an operation against Irish targets. He was ordered to gather information on the activities of a man and his activities and associates in Northern Ireland. He was told the man travelled widely in Europe buying goods and he was asked to make contact and befriend him. The witness said he knew him as "John" and was shown a photo of him. It was claimed in court that this was the accused Kearns.

The agent told the court he first met Kearns outside a store in Luxembourg where he was buying cut-price cigarettes and he told him he could supply them at cheaper rates. After a series of meetings in Europe, the witness said he sold cigarettes, laptops, clothes and jewellery to Kearns and a woman he claimed was his wife Alison, before claiming he could get guns from Pakistan.

The MI5 agent said at one meeting: "Alison told me I should go over to Ireland and supply them with weapons." But she subsequently denied that she had been serious. However, in July 2005, the security services told the agent he should introduce a man to Kearns as a weapons expert called Ejaz.

He said when the subject of guns was raised, Kearns promised to go back to associates and see what they thought but insisted he did not want to get involved in meetings himself.

A tape recording of one meeting in Amsterdam was played in court.

The case continues.

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