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McGartland case in London will test Home Office secrecy rules

By Liam Clarke

Controversial new secrecy rules which deny defendants access to the evidence against them will be tested tomorrow in a case involving a former IRA informer.

Two days have been set aside for the hearing, which may be heard in secret in London's High Court.

Martin McGartland and his partner Jo Asher are suing the Home Office for compensation after MI5 withdrew medical support and benefits payments.

 Ms Asher, who is Mr McGartland's full-time carer, resettled with him after he was shot at their home in Gateshead in 1999.

Now Home Secretary Theresa May has applied to have the hearing behind closed doors, with the couple's lawyers denied access to much of the evidence.

She also wants to conduct proceedings without confirming or denying that Mr McGartland was ever an agent or informer.

Nogah Ofer, the couple's solicitor, pointed out that Mr McGartland's role has been confirmed.

“This attempt to keep secret what has already been openly admitted by the relevant Government agencies is profoundly shocking,” she said.

He has written two books about his undercover work and a film, Fifty Dead Men Walking, was made about his life. He also featured in a BBC documentary.

Besides that, papers lodged with the court list instances in which his role was confirmed by the Government or its agencies.

The Home Secretary is asserting that a policy of neither confirm nor deny (NCND) was always maintained in respect of intelligence agents in all cases.

But Ms Ofer gave a number of examples where it was set aside in Northern Ireland alone. One was Brian Nelson, a military intelli

gence agent within the UDA whose role was admitted by his commanding officer in court proceedings. Another was William Stobie, an agent within the UDA, Declan ‘Beano’ Casey, an IRA man from Strabane, and Peter Keeley, an Army and Customs agent.

“His case is well-known,” Ms Ofer said. “There is no issue of national security because this case is nothing to do with his former work — it is purely about aftercare. It is about not paying for him to see a psychiatrist and not making disability payments.”

In February the Belfast Telegraph revealed that Mr McGartland was unable to collect State benefits because MI5 warned him not to admit the cause of his trauma or his gunshot wounds.

MI5 made up the shortfall, but stopped doing so after he gave an interview to the Belfast Telegraph.

Psychological counselling was also withdrawn.

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