I didn't destroy any evidence in case, MI5 man tells dissident terror trial
An MI5 agent has denied claims he deliberately destroyed evidence in the trial of three men arising from a dissident republican gun attack on police.
And the policies and procedures of MI5 were designed to "shield" and "insulate" the conduct of security service operatives from public scrutiny, it was said in court yesterday.
The claim was made by a senior defence QC during the second day of cross-examination of an MI5 witness in the trial of three men accused of charges linked to dissident republican activity.
Colin Duffy (51), Henry Fitzsimons (50) and Alex McCrory (57), whose addresses can't be given, deny preparing and directing terrorism, and IRA membership. Fitzsimons and McCrory are also charged with and deny attempting to murder police in a convoy in north Belfast, and possessing two assault rifles and ammunition used in the attack.
A three-vehicle police convoy came under attack by gunmen firing AK47s as it travelled along the Crumlin Road on December 5, 2013.
Belfast Crown Court previously heard that in the wake of the attack the security forces mounted covert surveillance operations in Lurgan, Co Armagh. Operation Contraction, the court was told, related to covert audio recordings in Demesne Park, while Operation Succinctness related to a video of the scene.
A third operation, codenamed Idealistic, related to a second video at the entrance of Forest Glade in the town.
The MI5 technical operative - who was given the cipher PIN 9281 - took the witness stand for a second day, screened from the public and press by a curtain and guarded by an armed plain-clothed police officer.
The court had previously heard that 9281 had deployed, retrieved and downloaded the audio recording onto MI5's mainframe computer system.
During cross-examination, a defence QC for McCrory asked 9281: "What are your qualifications for this post?"
9281 replied from behind the curtain: "My Lord, I am not sure I can answer that question on the grounds of national security."
Probed further about his expertise, the witness said that his qualifications, although not at degree level, related to "technical areas" and would involve "cyber security".
Asked if he had kept a notebook or any record of "this operation that could be used as evidence in court", 9281 replied: "No."
He was further asked if it was a coincidence that other MI5 officers in the case did not use notebooks in the course of the undercover operation.
The witness answered: "I can't comment for other officers. I didn't use one."
The defence QC put it to the witness: "Can I suggest to you that that is the policy and procedure of the security services to shield your conduct from the scrutiny of this court?"
The witness replied: "I can't comment on the policies and procedures."
The lawyer continued: "These policies and procedures are designed to insulate your conduct from scrutiny by this court and that you deliberately destroyed evidence in this case."
9281 replied: "I didn't destroy any evidence in this case."
Earlier the MI5 agent confirmed to the court that he finished downloading audio material from a USB stick from the covert listening devices at 6.30am on December 8, 2013.
Asked by counsel for Duffy at what time he started to download the material, 9281 replied: "I can't answer that on the grounds of national security."
At this point Mr Justice O'Hara interjected, saying to the witness that "you can tell us that you finished at 6.30am but you can't tell us when you started on the grounds of national security".
The witness agreed, saying that was for a number of reasons which included the "timing of the deployment" of the audio devices.
The lawyer put it to 9281 that it appeared from a computerised log print-out of December 8, 2013, that someone else other than the witness was downloading the same audio material between 4.40am and 5.52am before a virus alert went live at 5.57am.
The witness answered: "My Lord, the device never left my possession." He added that if they were not in his possession they would have been "stored in my secure locker".