Belfast Telegraph

Accused 'had security target info'

A man charged with assisting terrorists is held in high regard by dissident republican leaders as a "world of information" on potential security force targets in Northern Ireland, a court has heard.

Joseph Pearce, 44, allegedly provided specific details on police and prison officers to the leadership of the Continuity IRA, a prosecutor told Newry Magistrates Court.

Pearce, from Clogharevan Park in Bessbrook, Co Armagh, was remanded in custody on two counts of collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists after a bail application was refused by a district judge.

A prosecutor earlier told the court the charges were based on covert MI5 recordings of alleged meetings of the dissident Continuity IRA in a house in Newry over a three month period in the latter part of this year.

Seven men have already been charged with a range of terrorist offences on the basis of the conversations the security services secretly taped inside the Ardcarn Park home.

Pearce, whose defence lawyer told the court suffered from a range of serious health conditions, including morbid obesity, spoke only to give his name and date of birth at the start of the remand hearing.

His lawyer said he denied the charges.

The prosecutor told district judge Eamon King that Pearce only attended one of the recorded meetings, on October 3 this year.

He said Pearce attended for one hour of what was an extensive encounter.

The lawyer said during the whole meeting topics discussed included: possessing weapons; procuring explosives; possessing a rocket launcher; fund-raising; making and transporting a bomb; trying to establish people who were members of gun clubs in order to get access to ammunition; engineering a PRIG grenade launcher; and potential police and prison officer targets.

The prosecutor said at an early point in the meeting co-accused Patrick Joseph Blair was recorded having a phone conversation with Pearce during which Blair asked that Pearce come round and join proceedings.

The lawyer said that after ending that call, Blair allegedly told others already in attendance in the house that Pearce was a "world of information" and had already provided a lot of information on security force personnel.

The prosecutor claimed Blair had said: "He must have given us about four different cops, five cops and the governor, that Brit."

Blair allegedly went on to claim that Pearce had provided details of a specific police officer that enabled reconnaissance to be carried out.

Information about a businessman and his family and the apparent ease with which entry could be gained to his house was also allegedly provided, the lawyer said, claiming the details would have been used for planning a potential robbery or coercion attempt.

Blair, 59, from Villas One, Dundalk, was remanded in custody last month charged with directing terrorism; membership of a proscribed organisation; conspiracy to possess explosives with intent to endanger life; conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life and preparation for acts of terrorism.

When Pearce arrived at the Adrcarn Park meeting he allegedly answered a range of questions from those present, the Crown lawyer claimed.

The prosecutor said at one point Pearce recalled noticing a number of British soldiers standing outside a university campus in Jordanstown on the outskirts of Belfast.

The lawyer said Pearce, referring to the ease with which the soldiers could have been targeted, described them as "such a handy touch".

Pearce went on to allegedly describe knowing someone who had recently joined the Army and also named a number of loyalist paramilitaries.

"He also described the routine and leisure habits of a specifically named prison officer," said the lawyer.

He said Pearce said the officer often visited a relative's home and went rambling with his children from that property.

Arguing for bail to be refused he told Judge King Pearce was held in "high regard" by the Continuity IRA's leadership.

"He's a trusted individual and he's quite prepared to assist those seeking to bring forward the agenda of the Continuity IRA," he added.

Pearce's solicitor said his client had given a statement to police denying the charges, and that his client met the threshold for being granted bail.

He noted the previous arrests in the case had been made a number of weeks ago and that the accused had made no attempt to flee the Bessbrook home he had lived in for 12 years with his partner and her children.

As such, he said the police and prosecution could not claim he presented a risk of flight.

Referring to the initial arrests, he said if his client wanted to run away he would have done it then.

"That would have been the time to flee, not to wait for police to come to arrest him," he said.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detective sergeant, who earlier told the court she could connect the accused to the charges, said Pearce may not have known that information on him had been recorded in the house.

"He might not have been aware he had been recorded," she said.

Pearce's lawyer stressed that his client had not been charged with being a member of any proscribed organisation.

He also said he had a number of health conditions of concern, including angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and asthma.

"He's obviously morbidly obese and that requires medical attention as well," he added.

But the detective sergeant expressed concern that the information allegedly known to Pearce could be utilised if he was bailed.

"He's been described in the recordings as a wealth of information and that wealth of information doesn't disappear," she said.

Pearce, dressed in an open zipped grey fleece and black and white top, looked on from the dock as the exchanges unfolded.

Refusing bail, Judge King noted an indication from the prosecution that the case was on-going and others were actively being sought in connection with it.

He added: "It's a tragedy there are still people who believe that political objectives can be achieved through violent means."

The accused was remanded in custody to appear before the court again, via videolink, on January 7.

Pearce was arrested on Monday. Two others detained by police on the day, aged 41 and 54, remain in custody after officers were granted further time to question them.

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