He said the Real IRA had been scheming... and the arms deal would be the icing on the cake

1 July 2010
Belfast Telegraph

FOR two years he travelled to cities across Europe, plotting a deadly gunsmuggling operation designed to bring terror to the streets of Northern Ireland.

But Real IRA boss Paul McCaugherty's plans had one fatal flaw. His misplaced trust in a man he believed to be an arms dealer -- but who was actually a covert MI5 agent -- who blew the lid on the smuggling plot.

The terror arsenal McCaugherty agreed to buy for more than €100,000 (£82,000) did not exist, and instead he had been targeted by the Security Services in a two-year undercover sting.

Yesterday it ended when McCaugherty (43), from Beech Court, Lurgan, a leading dissident republican, was found guilty of terrorism charges relating to the phoney deal.

He yawned occasionally as the Diplock judge delivered his verdict at Belfast Crown Court.

McCaugherty, who claimed to be the second-in-command of the Real IRA, was also convicted of obtaining a restaurant in Portugal and making it available for use by terrorists.

His co-accused, Dermot Declan Gregory (41), from Concession Road in Crossmaglen, was also convicted of that charge, the only one he faced.

The non-jury trial was the first for 20 years in which MI5 agents gave evidence in a Belfast courtroom.

The trial had heard from a covert agent known only as 'Ali', who posed as a Pakistani gun-runner in a series of meetings with McCaugherty throughout Europe between 2004 and 2006.

McCaugherty made it clear he was anxious to buy arms and presented "Ali" with a shopping list of weapons, agreeing to pay him around €104,000 (£85,000) for a deadly arsenal.

He wanted "dozens and dozens and dozens" of explosive devices. It needed, he said, to be "hi-tech stuff".

The deadly list included 100kg of plastic explosives, 20 AK47 assault rifles, 10 sniper rifles, 20 handguns and 20 rocket propelled grenade launchers.

McCaugherty had told the agent the Real IRA had been "plotting and scheming", and that this arms order would be "the icing on the cake".

The operation would be financed by the sale of his co-accused, Gregory's restaurant in Portugal.

After hammering out the deal, McCaugherty arranged for the non-existent cache to be brought to Cherbourg in France.

But all the time he was being filmed and recorded by undercover security agents.

Those recordings, taken at six meetings between 'Ali' and McCaugherty in Amsterdam, Istanbul and Bruges, would form a key element of the Crown case.

During one of the meetings, it was stated that McCaugherty had shown an "unmistakable" interest in acquiring weapons and ammunition.

At another, he voiced concerns about another secret agent, known as 'Amir', whom he had come into contact with.

McCaugherty had questioned the credentials of 'Amir'. In discussions with 'Ali', he wondered if 'Amir' was a secret agent.

But in the words of the judge, he was "completely fooled" by the "elaborate and successful hoax". McCaugherty took 'Ali' into his confidence, saying that he trusted him implicitly.

It proved his downfall, and he was arrested in June 2006.

The judge, Mr Justice Hart, said he had no doubt the weapons McCaugherty was planning to buy would have been used to carry out attacks on the security forces.

The trial had previously heard claims about the extent of McCaugherty's role in the Real IRA.

McCaugherty chose not to give evidence during the trial, but his defence team claimed he was "entrapped or induced" by the role-playing agent.

This, however, was rejected by the judge.

His co-accused, Gregory, also known as Michael Dermot, also sat unresponsive in the dock as the verdicts were read out.

The pair were remanded in custody and will be sentenced in September.

A third man -- Desmond Kearns (44) from Lurgan -- was originally arrested and charged but his trial was halted earlier this month when Mr Hart ruled that another agent had wrongfully entrapped him.

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