Belfast Telegraph

DNA links dissident suspect to prison communiqué, court told

By Donna Deeney

A man police believe to be a leading figure in the IRA has been charged with terrorist offences including membership of a proscribed organisation and commissioning an act of terrorism.

DNA linked to the defendant, Thomas Ashe Mellon (38) from Rathmore Road in Londonderry, was found on a letter intercepted on a visitor by staff at Maghaberry Prison, which was written to a prisoner currently held in a wing of the prison segregated for dissident republicans.

The letter was discovered during a routine search of a man referred to in court as Mr O.

He was allowed to leave the prison and was later spotted by a police patrol talking to Mr Mellon outside the Oakleaf Restaurant on the Glenshane Road.

The defendant, who was arrested last Friday morning in north Belfast, was brought before the court wearing a red T-shirt and trousers and acknowledged a number of supporters in the public gallery.

A detective constable told Derry Magistrates Court that on Thursday, June 5 staff at Maghaberry had seized the small package of clingfilm which contained the letter constructed from a number of cigarette papers.

Staff contacted the police once they deciphered the content which police have linked to the defendant.

The police officer told the court that forensic examination by a handwriting expert said one person wrote the letter. The letter was read out in court and while much of the content referred to individuals involved in a live court case and suggestions of who would conduct a graveside oration at a funeral, there were also references to people detained who are considered "prisoners of war" and informers.

The police officer explained that a sentence which read "to determine who the Brussel is will be hard" was a short form of Brussels sprout, which was slang for tout – a term used for informants.

The letter also stated "comrade, much has been said by the POWs, but POW's should not engage in loose talk. Regarding the guilty pleas, people are asking are we in the leadership asking POWs to plead guilty? A guilty plea is not an easy way out. Leadership knows the craic". Subsequent comparisons with examples of Thomas Mellon's handwriting taken from his home during a police search "supported" that he was the person who wrote the letter.

DNA samples taken from the letter can be linked to Mr Mellon and that there was only one person's DNA on the letter, the police officer added.

She said that a search of Mr Mellon's home found no evidence that he was a smoker, there were no ashtrays or lighter nor did Mr Mellon ask for a smoke break during three days of questioning.

She added she would object to the prisoner being released on bail on the grounds that he was a prominent member within the IRA who will carry out attacks on businesses and police and would abscond from the jurisdiction.

Bail was refused.

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