Two guilty over MI5 arms sting

Paul McCaugherty / Dermot Gregory
30 June 2010

Two men have been found guilty of attempting to smuggle weapons and explosives into Northern Ireland from an arms dealer who was an MI5 agent.

The Real IRA's arms procurer duped as he was wined and dined by a British Secret Service Agent in Amsterdam Brugges and Istanbul, was convicted of plotting to smuggle 104,000 euro of lethal weapons into Ireland.

Paul Anthony McCaugherty from Beech Court, Lurgan who boasted his dissident republican branch made the Omagh bomb, killing 29, including unborn twins, showed no emotion, and even yawned at the verdicts of Mr Justice Hart at Belfast Crown Court.

McCaugherty was one of three Co Armagh men arrested following a two year MI5 sting operation code-named Nare and Liburna, between August 2004 and June 2006.

Mr Justice Hart, who as a Diplock Judge tried the five-week case without a jury, rejected defence claims the 43-year-old had been 'entrapped or induced' by the "role-playing agent" known only as 'Ali'.

McCaugherty had denied a total of seven charges including two of conspiring to obtain arms and explosives, IRA membership three charges of using money for the purposes of terrorism, and one of making a restaurant in Alvor Portugal available for use by terrorists.

The Laganside Courthouse heard that McCaugherty shopping list of weapons included 100 kilo's of plastic explosives, 20 AK47 assault rifles, 10 sniper rifles, 20 handguns and 20 rocket propelled grenade launchers, and several arm-burst launchers capable of taking out armored vehicles.

Mr Justice Hart said that McCaugherty had been completely taken in by the MI5 operatives, described as "Covert Human Intelligence Sources" and that simply because the entire operation was an elaborate hoax did not mean he could not be found guilty.

The secret agent Ali said the judge, had simply played the role of an arms dealer, and without inducement or pressure, offered a determined McCaugherty the opportunity to buy what he thought were arms and explosives.

McCaugherty, said Mr Justice Hart, took advantage of that opportunity, and even if he had been presented with a real arms dealer he still would have committed the offences.

The judge said initially he was satisfied McCaugherty did not give evidence as "the case against the defendant on each of the counts is an extremely compelling one and that the only sensible explanation not to do so is because he has no answer to give to that case".

Turning to McCaugherty's co-accused Dermott Declan Gregory, aka Michael Dermot Gregory, 41, of Concession Road in Cossmaglen, for making the Portuguese restaurant available, the judge said "there is no evidence that he was compelled to do it".

His defence had claimed that he had been acting under duress when he arranged for the deeds of the Panda Restaurant in Alvor to be handed over to the IRA.

Mr Justice Hart said it was also "striking" that fingerprints belonging to Gregory were found on a 100 euro note among a bundle of over 17,000 euro which was to be used as one of the installments for the arms cache.

"The prosecution has satisfied me beyond all reasonable doubt that he did not act under duress in his dealings with the IRA and I find him guilty," said the Belfast Judge.

Both men have been remanded back into custody for sentence in the new Crown Court term in September.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has welcomed the court verdict.
"This represents a significant setback to those regressive elements that seek to drag Northern Ireland back to the past. Our policing and security agencies will continue to oppose these elements with all means at their disposal."

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