Lawyers: gun-running accused 'are victims of MI5 entrapment'

16 June 2010
The Irish News

Judgment was reserved yesterday on whether MI5 over-stepped the mark in a two-year sting operation against dissident republicans.

Lawyers for two of three Co Armagh men facing charges arising out of the MI5 operation against the Real IRA claim they were "entrapped" and it would be an "abuse of process" to continue with their Belfast Crown Court trial.

Diplock judge Mr Justice Hart, trying the month-long case alone without a jury, said he hoped to give his ruling within a few days, if not by the beginning of next week.

Yesterday it was the turn of defence QC Adrian Colton to make submissions on behalf of the second named accused, 43-year-old Lurgan man Paul McCaugherty, said to have tried to negotiate an arms deal with an under-cover "role-playing operative".

McCaugherty, from Beech Court, is on trial along with 44-year-old Desmond Kearns, from Tannaghmore Green, also Lurgan, and 41-year-old Dermot Gregory aka Michael Dermot, from Concession Road in Cossmaglen, who deny a total of eight charges between them arising out of the secret service operation.

Mr Colton said the application to "stay ... stop" McCaugherty's case related not to his innocence or guilt but to the "integrity of the trial process".

"The issue of the defendant's guilt, or the issue of a fair trial is not at stake in this application but the process of the criminal justice system," Mr Colton said, adding that guilt "is irrelevant as to whether a stay should be granted or not".

McCaugherty, he said, was clearly a "specific target of this operation" and that the initial "targeting of Kearns was designed to lure McCaugherty into crime".

Mr Colton said that while the under-cover operation was successful in disrupting the workings of the Real IRA and its procurement of arms, it was "a tainted operation" as it had gone beyond "the permissible bounds".

Gordon Kerr QC for the prosecution rejected the suggestion that either McCaugherty or Kearns had been the subject of any "entrapment".

No actions on behalf of the MI5 agents, he said, were "in keeping with entrapment behaviour or threats", nor could their behaviour be "considered an affront to justice".

Mr Kerr said there was "no suggestion in the evidence of behaviour of improper inducements, improper threats or improper conduct" and nor was it a case "of badgering or going after a vulnerable person".

He further said that there was nothing in the behaviour of the secret service operatives which "was so reprehensible that the court could not tolerate ... nor offend the sense of public justice".

"The suggestion that the case be stopped because of entrapment does not even get off the ground," Mr Kerr said.

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