Irish Republican News · August 3, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
‘Stormontgate’ report disputed

The police Ombudsman’s office has clashed with Sinn Féin over a report which rejects accusations that a 2002 raid on Sinn Féin’s Assembly offices was politically motivated.

In her report, the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan, did criticise officers for the heavy-handed scale and manner of the search.

On the basis of intelligence made available to her, the Ombudsman said the decision to seek a warrant authorising a search of a specific desk in the Sinn Féin offices was “reasonable, proportionate and legal”.

Mrs O’Loan added: “We have not uncovered any evidence that the police decision-making was influenced inappropriately”.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy rejected the Ombudsman’s findings and insisted the raid was politically motivated.

“It is the view of Sinn Féin and indeed the vast majority of nationalists that the stage-managed raids on the Sinn Féin offices in Stormont were politically motivated and part of a wider anti-peace process agenda operating within the PSNI.

“Just because Nuala O’Loan has failed to uncover evidence to support this does not mean that this widely held belief is flawed,” he repeated yesterday.

The raid of Sinn Féin’s office at Stormont parliamentary buildings in October 2002 caused immense anger among republicans and fuelled unionist suspicion of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The planned search of the desk of a Sinn Féin employee saw a fleet of armoured PSNI vehicles suddenly disgorge scores of riot police and a forensic squad in boiler suits who ran into the building. Shortly ofter, they ran out holding nothing more than a blank CD-R.

In offering a public apology for the Stormont raid, PSNI chief Hugh Orde said “In terms of planning, we need to look at how planning took place. There was no pre-planning in relation to Stormont.” However, one of those behind the Stormont raid later told the investigators from the Ombudsman’s office that he planned the raid based on prior Special Branch intelligence.

Nothing of relevance was recovered in the raid. Two disks removed by the PSNI were returned within days and the charge against the individual in question of “possessing information of use to terrorists” was ultimately dropped.

It later emerged that the raid was part of a Special Branch operation - codenamed Torsion - which had been ongoing for many months in a bid to implicate republicans.

It also emerged that the British government was fully aware of Operation Torsion for many months in advance.

Irish Senator, Dr Martin Mansergh, said at the time that it was “an extraordinary thing in any democracy for the parliamentary offices of a political party to be heavily raided by a police force”.

“I mean, this is the sort of thing you associate more with Turkey, President Mugabe... countries that are sort of democratic. If some of this dates back a year, why the particular timing?” he asked.

In the immediate aftermath, ‘Stormontgate’ -- which became known to republicans as ‘Bogusgate’ -- brought down the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Mr Murphy pointed out the operation was directed by the PSNI Special Branch, known for its covert ‘psy-ops’ operations against republicans.

He questioned the lack of analysis of Operation Torsion, which he described as a Special Branch ‘dirty tricks exercise’.

He also pointed out that the media were present for the raid to create maximum political damage and helped to precipitate the collapse of the political institutions.

“This entire Special Branch operation from start to finish has been characterised by lies and misinformation and driven forward by a fundamental anti-peace process agenda within the PSNI Special Branch. This remains the case.”

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© 2004 Irish Republican News