Belfast Telegraph

Campbell snared by elaborate sting

The conviction of Michael Campbell in a Lithuanian court marks the culmination of an elaborate international "sting" involving the police and security services of three nations.

Operation Uncritical thwarted an attempt by the Real IRA to acquire guns and explosives which security services believe would have been used to mount a deadly terror campaign in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland.

At its heart was an undercover agent who for years risked his life to provide his MI5 handlers with vital intelligence about the activities of dissident republicans' plans. The agent, referred to in court as "Robert Jardine", was ostensibly a legitimate businessman based in southern England dealing in imports and exports. But he also had an illicit sideline in smuggling cigarettes from Eastern Europe.

At the time the Real IRA (RIRA) was using the lucrative trade in contraband cigarettes to fund its terrorist activities, and in late 2002 Jardine was recruited as an agent by MI5 with a view to disrupting their operations. Two years later however, the RIRA asked Jardine whether his contacts in Eastern Europe could help them acquire the weapons they needed as well - over the next 18 months, carefully directed by MI5, he began to lay the trail of deception which gradually drew in the terrorists.

One July, during a legitimate business trip to Poland, Jardine and the contact were said to have crossed the border into Lithuania where Jardine introduced her to his supposed weapons man - "Tomas". In fact Tomas was working for the Lithuanian security service, the VSD - the first in a cast of "role-players" deployed to convince the RIRA that the offer of weapons was real.

Throughout his dealings with the RIRA, Jardine was left in no doubt that he would pay with his life if his true role was discovered. On one occasion, when being taken to meet some leading RIRA figures in South Armagh, he was brought to a blacked out van, the interior of which was lined with bubble wrap, and a shovel lay on the floor. Jardine was convinced he was being taken to dig his own grave - in fact it was a gruesome test of his nerve by the RIRA men to see if he would actually step into the van.

Michael Campbell is the brother of Liam Campbell - one of the men held responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing who is currently fighting extradition to Lithuania over his alleged role in the arms plot. On August 29, 2007, having been chosen by the RIRA to go the Baltic state to meet Tomas, Michael Campbell and another alleged RIRA associate travelled to a lodge deep in the Lithuanian countryside belonging to the supposed arms dealer.

The next day they were introduced to a second dealer - whom the two Irishmen quickly nicknamed "Rambo" - who was to provide them with the actual weapons they wanted. Like Tomas, however, Rambo was in reality working for the VSD. Campbell and his colleague agreed to pay a 5,000 euro deposit on a consignment, including explosives, detonators and timers.

On January 21, 2008, Campbell travelled to Lithuania with his wife to inspect the weapons for which he had put down the deposit, and finalise the arrangements. A hidden camera secretly filmed the encounter as Campbell examined one of the detonators and asked whether they would be "good for booby traps".

Campbell was also filmed paying a further 1,000 euro deposit for a powerful Barrett sniper rifle - the type of weapon used to kill Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, the last British soldier to die at the hands of the Provisional IRA in 1997. Asked by Rambo who the target would be, Campbell replied, "Brits". Campbell was then induced by another role-player to admit that he was with the RIRA - at that point the sting was complete and the trap was sprung with Campbell's arrest.

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