Belfast Telegraph

Police 'secretly recorded alleged dissident republicans interrogating suspected drug dealer' - court hears

By Alan Erwin

Police secretly recorded alleged dissident republicans interrogating a suspected drug dealer, the High Court heard today.

Prosecutors claimed the victim was beaten and forced to give information on others operating in west Belfast amid threats of having his legs blown off.

Weeks later the man was subjected to a paramilitary-style punishment shooting, a judge was told.

During a six-month covert operation discussions about tactics and weaponry allegedly linked to the Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) grouping were also listened in to.

Details emerged as bail was granted to one of those accused of being present at the meetings.

Mark Gerard Heaney, 47, of Lagmore Glen, Dunmurry, faces charges of encouraging or assisting grievous bodily harm with intent, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm, membership of a proscribed organisation, namely the IRA, collecting information likely to be useful to terrorists and possessing a firearm.

He is allegedly connected to audio recordings from five separate occasions between last December and May.

It was claimed that Heaney and other men held conversations in another house in the Dunmurry about ONH activity and handling drug dealers.

On one date in February, the court heard, a suspected dealer was interrogated for the names, addresses and family details of others suspected of being involved in the drugs trade in the Poleglass and Twinbrook areas.  

"He was threatened that if he gave wrong information his legs would be blown off with a shotgun," a prosecution barrister said.

The man was held for 42 minutes, with a slapping sound heard twice on the tape.

He was then allegedly ordered to leave before his interrogators held a further 10-minute debriefing session.

"That person was shot one month later in a paramilitary punishment shooting," the prosecutor revealed.

He claimed that Heaney and his co-accused were also heard on separate occasions discussing firearms, operational activities and targeting drug dealers.

With the prosecution case based entirely on the audio recordings, Mr Justice Weatherup was told an expert analyst was able to carry out an accurate voice comparison.

According to the prosecution the conversations show the threat against drug dealers is high.

At least 33 people suspected of supplying drugs in north and west Belfast have been subjected to punishment shootings since 2011, the court heard.

Defence counsel Jon Paul Shields stressed that apart from the recordings there is no other evidence against his client.

He set out how Heaney had given up work as a painter and decorator to become the registered full-time carer for his 75-year-old mother.

Based on the elderly woman's ill-health Mr Justice Weatherup decided Heaney was the most appropriate person to look after her.

Granting bail, the judge ordered the accused to live at his mother's home under curfew and electronic tagging conditions.

He also stated: "If there is one thing we don't need in this society it's some self-appointed group going out and shooting other people because they believe they can have the authority to police certain areas.

"There is an established police force. It is empowered to undertake those tasks; there may be complaints about it, there may be people who feel it's not doing its job properly, but it doesn't give anyone else the power to do the job."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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