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Dissident republican 'determined' to buy arms

A leading dissident republican duped by an MI5 agent posing as an arms dealer was found guilty today of trying to smuggle a huge cache of weapons and explosives into Northern Ireland.

Paul McCaugherty, 43, from Lurgan, County Armagh, had no idea the arsenal he agreed to buy for more than 100,000 euros did not exist and he was instead being targeted by the Security Services in a two-year undercover sting operation.

Convicting him of a string of offences related to the phoney deal at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Mr Justice Hart, ruling in the non-jury case, said the evidence against the Real IRA commander was "extremely compelling".

"He was one of a group of terrorists determined to buy arms and explosives to carry out attacks on members of the security forces in Northern Ireland," he added.

McCaugherty, from Beech Court, was also found guilty of obtaining a restaurant in the Portuguese Algarve with the intent of selling it off to bolster the coffers of the dissident movement.

His co-accused, Dermot Declan Gregory, 41, from Crossmaglen, Co Armagh, was also convicted on that count, the only charge he faced.

Neither man gave evidence during the five-week trial and the judge said he drew an adverse inference from their refusal to take the stand.

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However, the court did hear from an MI5 agent, known only as Ali, who posed as the arms dealer in a series of meetings with McCaugherty throughout Europe between 2004 and 2006.

They met six times in locations as far apart as Amsterdam and Istanbul.

In these secretly-filmed exchanges they hammered out a deal that would see the top republican shell out 104,000 euro (£85,300) for 100kg of plastic explosives, 20 AK47 assault rifles, 10 sniper rifles, 20 handguns and 20 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers.

He had handed over almost 50,000 euro (£41,000) in three deposits and arranged for the non-existent cache to be brought to Cherbourg in France before his arrest in June 2006.

The covert video and audio recordings of these meetings taken by Ali formed a key element of the Crown case.

Justice Hart said McCaugherty had been taken in by a very effective intelligence operation.

"It was an elaborate and successful hoax that completely fooled McCaugherty into thinking Ali was a genuine arms dealer," he said.

The judge rejected any suggestion that he had been entrapped and said the republican would have pursued the same course if he had been dealing with a real weapons seller.

McCaugherty, heavily overweight, balding and wearing a cream and pink shirt, showed no emotion throughout Justice Hart's near two-hour judgment, only nodding at the outset to acknowledge his name.

Wearing a brown shirt and balding, Gregory, who is also known as Michael Dermot and is from Concession Road, Crossmaglen, also sat unresponsive in the dock as the verdicts were read out.

A third man - 44-year-old Desmond Kearns from Tannaghmore Green, Lurgan - was originally charged along with the two defendants but his trial was halted earlier this month when Mr Hart ruled that another agent, known as Amir, had wrongfully entrapped him.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson welcomed the court verdict.

He said tonight: "This represnts a significant setback to those regressive elements that seek to drag Northern Ireland back to the past. Our policing and security agencies will continue to oppose these elements with all means at their disposal."

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