Belfast Telegraph

Theft accused on 'downward spiral' over IRA murder of dad, court hears

Michael Harte appeared before Belfast High Court on Monday
Michael Harte appeared before Belfast High Court on Monday

By Alan Erwin

A man accused of stealing thousands of pounds worth of goods and spitting on police representatives has been on a "downward spiral" since learning of an alleged state role in the IRA murder of his father, the High Court has heard.

Michael Harte is charged with thefts from two stores in Belfast city centre, assaulting civilian detention officers and disorderly behaviour.

Prosecutors claimed the 28-year-old, of Glenville Park in Newtownabbey, stole clothing and 15 pairs of sunglasses valued at £1,842 from Urban Outfitters in the Victoria Square shopping complex on March 30.

When arrested and brought into custody Harte allegedly spat on a civilian officer.

Crown lawyer Iryna Kennedy detailed a second incident on April 16 where Harte is accused of stealing fragrances worth £309 from TK Maxx at Donegall Arcade.

During a bail application she claimed he fled as a loss prevention officer in the store tried to stop him.

According to the prosecutor Harte then shouted aggressively at a policewoman called to the scene, calling her a "f****** slut" in front of children and other members of the public.

He faces a further charge of assault for allegedly trying to kick her as she was getting into a PSNI vehicle.

"He stated that he would smash her face if she got in," Mrs Kennedy claimed.

"Then, while in custody, he spat again in the eye of a civilian detention officer."

However, defence barrister Sean Devine argued that the circumstances surrounding his client's alleged offending were "truly exceptional".

Mr Devine revealed the accused's father, 24-year-old Christopher Harte, was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1993 amid claims of being an informer.

The killing is among those under scrutiny in the Operation Kenova investigation into the activities of a former top British spy inside the republican movement, the court heard.

West Belfast man Freddie Scappaticci, 72, denies being the agent codenamed Stakeknife while in charge of the IRA's internal security team, the so-called 'Nutting Squad'.

Developments since Operation Kenova commenced have triggered Michael Harte's alleged offending, according to his lawyer.

Mr Devine said: "It was only when this allegation about state involvement in his father's murder in order to protect assets of high value in the republican movement that his behaviour went into a downward spiral.

"It was bad enough he had to live under the stigma in a community where informers or touts receive very hostile treatment.

"However, he became aware that statutory agencies he should be turning to for help for his problems were partly responsible for the murder of his father."

Referring to separate civil proceedings the accused is taking, counsel claimed he has a "once in a lifetime opportunity which many victims of the Troubles don't get".

Harte was granted bail under strict conditions, including a ban on entering parts of Belfast city centre.

Mr Justice Huddleston also excluded him from all retail premises other than food and grocery stores.

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