MI5 sting: Top dissident republican guilty of arms plot
A dissident republican was found guilty yesterday of attempting to smuggle weapons and explosives into Northern Ireland from an arms dealer who was an MI5 agent.
Paul McCaugherty, 43, from Lurgan, County Armagh, was convicted of a string of offences at Belfast Crown Court related to the elaborate two-year undercover sting operation carried out by the security services.
Ruling in the non-jury trial, judge Mr Justice Hart said the case against the Real IRA commander was "extremely compelling".
McCaugherty, from Beech Court, was also found guilty of obtaining a restaurant in Portugal with the intent of selling it off to bolster the coffers of the dissident movement.
His co-accused, Dermot Declan Gregory, 41, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, was also convicted of that charge, the only one he faced.
During the trial, the court heard 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.
The republican agreed to pay the covert operative 104,000 euro (£85,300) 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 50,000 euro (£41,000) in three deposits and arranged for the non existent cache to be brought to Cherbourg in France before his arrest in June 2006.
Secret video and audio recordings of these meetings taken by the Security Services formed a key element of the Crown case.
Justice Hart said it was clear what McCaugherty wanted the arms for.
"He was one of a group of terrorists determined to buy arms and explosives to carry out attacks on members of the security forces in Northern Ireland," he said.
But the judge said he was duped 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.
Both McCaugherty and Gregory, who is also known as Michael Dermot and is from Concession Road, Crossmaglen, gave no reaction from the dock as the verdicts were read out.
A third man - 44-year-old Desmond Kearns from Tannaghmore Green, Lurgan - was originally charged along with the two defendants but his trial was halted earlier this month when Mr Hart ruled that another agent, known as Amir, had wrongfully entrapped him.