Main charges dropped in Stormont `spy ring' case

Prosecutors in the North have dropped their main charges against two Belfast republicans accused of involvement in an alleged IRA ``spy ring'' at Stormont.

Sinn Féin's head of administration, Denis Donaldson, and his son-in-law, Ciaran Kearney, were originally charged in October 2002 with possessing documents of a secret, confidential or restricted nature that originated in government offices.

However, those charges have now been dropped. Mr Donaldson and Mr Kearney may still face remaining charges, which are significantly less substantial than the PSNI police previously indicated.

The pair were arrested after highly publicised PSNI raids on republican homes in Belfast and on Sinn Féin's offices in Stormont.

Scenes of squadrons of armed police raiding the party's office dramatised the arrests in an operation dubbed `Operation Torsion'. The PSNI subsequently claimed to have uncovered a high-level IRA ``spy ring'' in Stormont, a move that caused the collapse of the North's political institutions and the re-imposition of direct rule from London.

The then First Minister, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble claimed the affair was `bigger than Watergate'.

However, it quickly emerged that nothing was found at the Sinn Féin office at Stormont.

The authorities dragged out the so-called `Stormontgate' case for fifteen months without any charges brought against the pair and their fellow accused, civil servant William Mackessy and west Belfast woman Fiona Farrelly.

The inordinate delays in providing disclosure to defence lawyers has been repeatedly raised in court.

It was alleged in a bail hearing that a laptop computer found at Farrelly's home, including the details of prison warders. However, all charges against Farrelly were dropped in December.

It is understood that the accused will deny the remaining charges.

The British authorities are once again being urged to reveal truth behind `Operation Torsion', widely believed to have been a political manoeuvre to justify the collapse of the Assembly and to build pressure for the disbandment of the IRA.

The families of the four have said their relatives had been the victims of a campaign of ``malicious and sustained misinformation''.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News