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Alleged dissident held in custody for two years on police murder attempt, refused bail

By Alan Erwin

Published 21/12/2015

An alleged senior dissident republican held in custody for two years on a charge of trying to murder police officers has been refused High Court bail.

Lawyers for Henry Fitzsimons claimed today that he should be released to prevent his case turning into a form of detention without trial.

They also argued that the evidence for accusing him of a series of terrorist offences linked to a gun attack on a police convoy in north Belfast is weak.

But denying bail, a judge ruled that he must continue to be held behind bars.

Fitzsimons, 47, is alleged to have conspired with co-accused Colin Duffy and Alex McCrory to kill security force members.

Other charges against him include attempting to murder members of the PSNI, conspiracy to possess firearms and explosives with intent to endanger life, aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm, and belonging to a proscribed organisation - namely the Irish Republican Army.

He was arrested after a police Land Rover and two other vehicles came under fire as they travelled along the Crumlin Road in December 2013.

Two AK47 rifles and 14 spent rounds of ammunition were later recovered along with a hijacked and burnt-out taxi the gunmen used for their getaway.

Fitzsimons, of no fixed address, was later detained along with Duffy, 46, from Forest Glade in Lurgan, Co Armagh, and McCrory, 53, of Sliabh Dubh View in Belfast.

Prosecutors allege the trio were secretly recorded meeting in the grounds of a large country house near Duffy's home a day after the shooting incident.

It has been claimed they were holding leadership discussions about IRA activities, future direction, finances and the amount of weapons and Semtex at the organisation's disposal.

Talks involved the Crumlin Road attack, the loss of the AK47s, burning out the getaway car and whether the gunmen would be recognised, the court heard.

During the meeting it was allegedly stated that in future the only operations cleared would be ones with a high percentage chance of "getting a kill" or at least doing damage.

But defence QC Eilis McDermott argued that a voice recognition expert had not strongly indicated her client was one of those recorded at the meeting.

"The evidence against Mr Fitzsimons is, by any objective standard, very slim," she contended.

The renewed application centred on the length of time being taken to progress the case to trial.

Ms McDermott claimed: "The delay in this case has been so egregious... if it's not to become detention without trial then the court should intervene to grant bail." 

However, His Honour Judge Lynch was told a preliminary inquiry to establish of the three accused have a case to answer is set to be held next month.

He acknowledged: "I have to balance the length of time the applicant has been awaiting trial in custody against the gravity of the charges."

Despite the offer of a £5,000 cash surety, he ruled: "This application just falls on the wrong side of bail."

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