THE £1MILLION money laundering trial of a director of one of Belfast's most famous bars may have to be held at the Waterfront Hall due to Covid-19.
The possibility was revealed at Belfast Crown Court during a brief hearing of the case of Elizabeth 'Lily' Mulholland, who is accused, along with eight others, of a construction industry VAT fraud.
The 66-year-old is one of the directors of Kelly's Cellars, one of the city's oldest bars and famed for its links to the United Irishmen.
Mulholland, of the Cavehill Road in north Belfast, is charged with converting criminal property valued at £1,168,060 between June 2010 and March 2012.
The co-accused are Matthew Brennan (35), of Mathieson Terrace in Glasgow; Vincent O'Neill (51), of Weavers Meadow in Crumlin, Co Antrim; Kieran McGuinness (44), of Berkely Hall Square in Lisburn; and Dominic Devlin (57), of Glebe Gardens in Moira, Co Down.
Four further co-defendants have addresses in Belfast. They are Francis Devlin (56), of Bristow Park; Paul McStravick (53), of Myrtlefield Park; Desmond Crean (54), of Drummond Park; and Joseph Michael McStravick (55), of Commedagh Drive.
At the city's Crown Court on Friday, Mr Justice John O'Hara said that given the Covid-19 regulations, it was not possible to hold a trial with so many defendants in existing Crown Courts.
"We don't have access to the necessary facilities, but facilities are likely to be made available after Christmas in the Waterfront Hall," he explained.
Listing the case for a review hearing on February 12, Mr Justice O'Hara said it was not possible to start the trial on its scheduled date in January.
He added that unless the situation with Covid improved, the trial would likely go ahead between Easter and summer.
Adjourning the case, Mr Justice O'Hara added that the new venue would be necessary "unless Covid turns a corner or we have made some progress on facilities that can have a multi-defendant trial that might run for a significant number of weeks".
This newspaper previously revealed that the Department of Justice had drawn up plans to take over buildings and transform them into 'Nightingale courts' in a bid to ease the huge backlog of cases created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Trials started again in August, with defendants, juries and legal professionals split between several courtrooms to maintain social distancing and avoid costly postponements should there be a positive test for the virus in courts.
But despite Laganside courts complex containing the largest courtrooms found in Northern Ireland, the building cannot cope with a trial involving a large number of defendants in a Covid-safe environment while also allowing time and space to deal with other matters before judges.