Real IRA leader found guilty after MI5 sting

1 July 2010 
Irish Independent

A LEADING dissident republican who was duped by an MI5 agent posing as an arms dealer was found guilty yesterday of trying to smuggle a huge cache of weapons and explosives into Northern Ireland.

Paul McCaugherty (43) from Lurgan in Co Armagh had no idea the arsenal he agreed to buy for more than €100,000 did not even exist and that he was instead being targeted by the British security services in a two-year undercover sting operation.

Convicting him of a string of offences related to the phoney deal at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Mr Justice Hart, sitting without a jury, said the evidence against the Real IRA commander was "extremely compelling".

He added: "He was one of a group of terrorists determined to buy arms and explosives to carry out attacks on members of the security forces."

McCaugherty, from Beech Court, was also found guilty of obtaining a restaurant in the Algarve in Portugal with the intent of selling it off to bolster the coffers of the dissident movement.

His co-accused, Dermot Declan Gregor (41), from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, was also convicted on that count, the only charge he faced.

Neither man gave evidence during the five-week trial and the judge said he drew an adverse inference from their refusal to take the stand.


However, the court did hear from an MI5 agent, known only as Ali, who posed as the arms dealer in a series of meetings with McCaugherty throughout Europe between 2004 and 2006.

They met six times in locations as far apart as Amsterdam and Istanbul.

In these secretly filmed exchanges, they hammered out a deal that would see the top republican shell out £85,300 (€104,000) for 100kg of plastic explosives, 20 AK47 assault rifles, 10 sniper rifles, 20 handguns and 20 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

He had handed over almost£41,000 (€50,000) in three deposits and arranged for the non-existent cache to be brought to Cherbourg in France, before his arrest in June 2006.

Mr Justice Hart said McCaugherty had been taken in by a very effective intelligence operation. "It was an elaborate and successful hoax that completely fooled McCaugherty into thinking Ali was a genuine arms dealer," he said.

The judge rejected any suggestion that McCaugherty had been entrapped and said the dissident republican would have pursued the same course if he had been dealing with a real weapons seller.

McCaugherty showed no emotion throughout Justice Hart's near two-hour judgment, only nodding at the outset to acknowledge his name.

Gregory -- who is also known as Michael Dermot and is from Concession Road, Crossmaglen, south Armagh -- also sat unresponsive in the dock as the verdicts were read out.

A third man, 44-year-old Desmond Kearns from Tannaghmore Green, Lurgan, had originally been charged along with the two defendants.

However, his trial was halted earlier this month when Mr Hart ruled that another agent, known as Amir, had wrongfully entrapped him.

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