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MI5 closes in on New IRA gangster Mellon

 

Thomas Ashe Mellon
Thomas Ashe Mellon
Mellon outside Saoradh's office in Derry

By Ciaran Barnes

POLICE chiefs are preparing a fresh directing terrorism case against the leader of the New IRA gang that murdered journalist Lyra McKee.

Thomas Ashe Mellon is the target of a specialist team involving officers from the PSNI's terrorism investigation unit (TIU) and MI5. Their orders are to bring down the 43-year-old dissident who runs the New IRA in Derry city.

Mellon, who glared at Lyra's friends as they protested outside offices linked to the gang, has been a paramilitary since his teenage years.

But he has led a charmed life - beating a previous directing terrorism rap, walking away from a possessing explosives prosecution, and being investigated but not charged in connection with a robbery at Gransha Hospital.

The only major crime the New IRA godfather has been convicted of is writing a note that was smuggled into dissident inmates in Maghaberry Prison.

Mellon was jailed for 15 months for having an article of use to terrorists and put on a 10-year MI5 watch-list, which is normally only reserved for members of Islamic State.

After getting out of prison in 2015, he assumed control of the New IRA in Derry and was a key figure in establishing the headquarters of its political wing Saoradh on Chamberlain Street in the city, from which it is now being evicted.

However, Mellon's reign could soon be at an end with the establishment of a specialist police unit with orders to charge him with directing terrorism.

Officers from the TIU are working with their counterparts in MI5 and the military's Special Reconnaissance Regiment in targeting the New IRA boss.

Conversations are understood to have been recorded and dissident meetings monitored, with unconfirmed reports that Saoradh's Junior McDaid house has also been bugged.

Security chiefs used a similar strategy to charge prominent republicans Colin Duffy, Alex McCrory and Harry Fitzsimmons with directing the New IRA's terror campaign.

The trio are currently on trial before a non-jury court denying the charge.

"Mellon was high on the terrorism investigation unit's radar, but he became a priority target after the murder of Lyra McKee," a security insider told Sunday Life.

"There were already covert operations in place against his group and these have intensified.

"Cases like this take time. They involve many hours of monitoring and recording, often with little end result, but pieced together they do create enough evidence for arrests."

Security sources say lessons have been learned since the last time Mellon was charged with directing terrorism and found not guilty by a judge.

The coffin of journalist Lyra McKee is taken out of the church after her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The coffin of journalist Lyra McKee is taken out of the church after her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Theresa May pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee
Irish Prime minister Leo Varadkar (R) and Prime Minister Theresa May (C) leave St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019, after attending the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP/Getty Images)
Irish President Michael D Higgins consoles Sara Canning, partner of the murdered journalist Lyra McKee as her funeral takes place at St. Anne's Cathedral (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Funeral and service of thanksgiving for journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn(centre) and Irish President Michael D Higgins(right) pictured at and at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Mourners and friends pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
Mourners react as the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee, who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, is placed into a hearse following her funeral at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Funeral and service of thanksgiving for journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Mourners and friends pictured at the funeral. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
DUP leader Arlene Foster at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Mourners gesture as pallbearers carry the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee (29), who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, during the funeral service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019.
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Mourners gather outside of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019, during the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Mourners gesture as pallbearers carry the coffin of journalist Lyra McKee (29), who was killed by a dissident republican paramilitary in Northern Ireland on April 18, during the funeral service at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24, 2019. - Lyra McKee, 29, who chronicled the troubled history of Northern Ireland, was shot in the head on April 18, 2019, as rioters clashed with police in Londonderry, the second city of the British province. (Photo by Paul Faith / AFP)PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
The coffin is carried into the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
General view of the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÕs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Picture Matt Mackey / Press Eye.
Prime Minister Theresa May paying her condolences to the family of Lyra McKee
Mourners listen to the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar , Prime Mnister Theresa May and President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Mourners arrive for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Mourners embrace ahead of the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Prime Minister Theresa May and Irish President Michael D Higgins pictured at he funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Prime Minister Theresa May pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast.
President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
A mourner arrives carrying a wreath for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sin Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton. The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Leo Varadkar arrives for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - APRIL 24: The congregation arrive for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Journalist and campaigner for LGBT rights, Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead last Thursday while observing the rioting in Londonderry. Her family gave a statement in which they said her "openness and her desire to bring people together made her totally apolitical". The New IRA have admitted responsibility for her killing. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary-Lou McDonald pictured at he funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The hearse carrying the body of murdered journalist Lyra McKee arrives at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Sinn Fein leader Michelle and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 24, 2019. Miss McKee, 29, died as a result of injuries sustained when she was shot on the Creggan estate on April 18. See PA story FUNERAL McKee. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Simon Coveney TD at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 SDLP leader Colum Eastwood at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye Northern Ireland Wednesday 24th April 2019 Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Mike Nesbitt pictured at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Michelle O'Neill, Vice President of Sinn Fein arrives for the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee at St Annes Cathedral on April 24, 2019 in Belfast
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald arrives for the funeral service of murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Naomi Long Alliance Party Leader at the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
General view of the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of journalist Lyra McKee at St AnneÄôs Cathedral, Donegall Street, Belfast. Lyra McKee was murdered in Creggan in Derry on Thursday 18th April. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
The funeral of Journalist Lyra McKee takes place at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)
Mourners begin to gather for the funeral of Lyra McKee at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast on April 24th 2019 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

"Admittedly the evidence against him then was weak," added the insider.

"It was more a case of hitting him with a holding charge and getting him off the streets so he couldn't cause any trouble.

"The test for prosecution this time round will be much stricter, it will take a lot more than his handwriting on a scrap of paper."

Mellon - a taxi driver by day with an address on Rathmore Road - is extremely security conscious, and having served a previous terror sentence, rarely gets his hands dirty.

The New IRA riot in the Creggan area last month, which was put on for cameras filming there and led to the killing of Lyra McKee, took place on his orders.

Mellon was careful enough to not get involved, telling a veteran dissident to organise the violence.

He did, however, sanction shots being fired at police, with one of the bullets hitting Ms McKee who was standing beside a PSNI vehicle on Fanad Drive. Mellon is also aware that violent republican groups in Derry have been heavily infiltrated by informants, with several members of the New IRA jailed following police intelligence-led operations.

Because of this, he keeps a tight circle of friends, with his closest confidants being veteran dissident Fergal Melaugh, who is in his 60s, and Kieran McCool (51), named in court as being a "key member" of a dissident republican gang.

Both men stood menacingly with Mellon outside Junior McDaid House when Ms McKee's friends protested by putting red handprints on its wall to represent the murdered writer's blood.

Also standing with arms folded outside the building was tattooed dissident Gary Hayden.

The 46-year-old was among 11 New IRA supporters, including Mellon, convicted last week of taking part in an illegal Easter 2018 parade through the Creggan.

They were videoed by police wearing berets, sunglasses and combat fatigues with scarves covering their mouths while marching in the estate.

The demonstration led to trouble, with teenage rioters hurling petrol bombs at PSNI vehicles.

Mellon and Hayden were fined £750 each, as was Saoradh spokesman Joe Barr (30) and convicted dissident bomber Jason Ceulemans (47), who was caught in 2012 with a rocket launcher in a car.

Ceulemans was jailed for five years for possessing explosives, and having been released in 2017, is on licence until 2022.

He remains a free man despite being convicted last week of taking part in an illegal parade in support of the New IRA.

Also convicted of taking part in the march was William Martin McDonnell (32), who was caught by prison staff smuggling New IRA leader Thomas Mellon's handwritten terror note into dissident inmates at Maghaberry jail.

He was caged for a year.

Ex-Provo Christy O'Kane (45) was also fined £750 for his role in the Creggan terror display.

In 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years after walking into a PSNI station and confessing to involvement in five IRA shootings and bombings that took place between 1993 and 1994.

Because the offences took place before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, O'Kane had to serve just two years behind bars.

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