Judge ends trial of four men accused of being IRA dissidents
The trial of four men accused of being dissident IRA members secretly recorded by security services agents ended yesterday after the prosecution offered no further evidence.
Two of the men - 52-year-old Mark Gerard Heaney of Lagmore Glen, Dunmurry, and 62-year-old Kevin O'Neill from Coolnasilla Park South, west Belfast - were found not guilty of membership by direction of Judge Patricia Smyth when no further evidence was offered against them.
Judge Smyth also agreed to leave the IRA membership charge "on the books and not proceeded with" in the case of two others, 41-year-old Robert Warnock O'Neill of Bingnian Drive, west Belfast, and 52-year-old Dunmurry man Daniel Joseph Anthony McClean, of Lagmore Gardens.
However, the pair are to be sentenced next week after they pleaded guilty to a new 10th count of assaulting an unknown man and to collecting information useful to terrorists on suspected drug dealers, both in February 2014.
Their Belfast Crown Court non-jury trial, which began in November, heard claims the men, who originally faced a total of nine charges, were secretly recorded by MI5 as they allegedly discussed dissident IRA tactics in a house at Aspen Walk in Dunmurry.
In the four covert recordings, made between December 2013 and May the following year, it was said they bugged men talking about kneecappings, punishment beatings and forcing people, including "a wee lad", to flee the country or face the consequences.
In one recording, it was claimed, a suspected drug dealer was threatened with his "legs being taken off with a shotgun" if he did not co-operate in providing information on other alleged dealers.
MI5 agents, screened from the court, told of planting and retrieving the bugs, but refused to elaborate on their workings, even to acknowledge they were "covert devices", claiming it could "damage national security" if more were said.
The prosecution claimed that the evidence of an expert on voice recognition who analysed the bugged recordings would provide very strong support in the case against Kevin O'Neill.
They also claimed strong support in the cases of Heaney and Robert O'Neill and "moderate to strong" support in identifying McClean.
However, on Monday the prosecution revealed that they were no longer relying upon one of the covert voice recordings and went on to offer no further evidence in respect of four of the charges faced separately by Heaney and Robert O'Neill relating to the possession of firearms, both with intent and under suspicious circumstances.
Yesterday it had been suggested that the court might hear the evidence of the voice recognition professor but - following a number of adjournments and the guilty pleas of Robert O'Neill and McClean - the prosecution said their pleas were being "accepted in satisfaction of this indictment".