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Colin Duffy and two co-accused due back in court

By Ashleigh McDonald

Three men suspected of being "leading members of a terrorist organisation" - including prominent Lurgan republican Colin Duffy - are due to appear in court later this week on charges arising from covert surveillance.

Whilst Duffy had a charge of attempted murder withdrawn yesterday, he and two others are due to stand trial on other terrorist-related offences, including directing terrorism.

It is the Crown's case that the trio were secretly recorded in December 2013 having a conversation close to Duffy's Forest Glade home following a murder bid on police in the Ardoyne area of Belfast.

Duffy (49) and his co-accused Henry Joseph Fitzsimons (48) of no fixed abode and 55-year-old Alex McCrory from Sliabh Dubh View in Belfast initially faced a total of 10 charges arising mainly from both video and audio recordings.

All three faced a charge of attempting to murder members of the PSNI in the Ardoyne area of Belfast on December 5, 2013, after shots were fired at a police convoy travelling along the Crumlin Road. Prior to all three entering their pleas, legal teams for each of the accused tried to have the charges withdrawn.

Mr Justice Colton yesterday found that whilst there was evidence to charge McCrory and Fitzsimons with attempted murder, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the charge against Duffy. He also withdrew a charge all three faced of conspiring to murder members of the PSNI on a date between December 31, 2012 and December 16, 2013. The Crown had argued that the recorded conversations - where three men were recorded talking about the Ardoyne shooting, the loss of the AK47 used and future attacks on police - demonstrated a conspiracy to murder. However, Judge Colton said that whilst the conversations demonstrated approval of, and willingness to, carry out such attacks, the evidence "lacks proof of the specific ingredients to make good this charge."

Regarding a charge of the preparation of terrorist acts - namely holding a meeting at Lurgan Park to discuss matters related to the acts of terrorism on December 5, 2013 - Judge Colton said he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence against all three to pursue the charge.

Judge Colton was also asked by all defendants' legal teams to withdraw charges of directing terrorism between December 31, 2012 and December 16, 2013, and IRA membership on the same dates.

In yesterday's ruling, the judge said there was sufficient evidence in the covert recordings to support the claim "this was a meeting of three leading members of a terrorist organisation who were analysing the shortcomings from their perspective of the Ardoyne attack and discussing future operations by the organisation".

Judge Colton also said: "The conversations suggest that the participants are active members of a dissident republican terrorist organisation."

He therefore refused to withdraw this charge.

All three will appear at court this Thursday for their arraignment, where the remaining charges will be put to them and they will have to enter pleas.

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