Irish Republican News · December 12, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

The British government’s ‘Dirty Tricks’ policy in the North has been exposed after those still charged in the bogus case of the ‘IRA spy ring’, which brought about the collapse of the institutions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, were all found not guilty.

Denis Donaldson, Ciaran Kearney and William Mackessy were arrested following a high-profile raid on Sinn Féin’s office at Stormont parliament buildings in October 2002. Two others were charged in the case, but saw their charges withdrawn the following year.

At the time, the North’s devolved administration faced an uncertain future ahead of a scheduled election to the Belfast Assembly, in which unionists opposed to the peace process were expected to gain the upper hand.

The ‘psy-ops’ raid, involving scores of police vehicles and carried out before an invited audience of the international media, netted no evidence. However, the ensuing outcry over ‘Stormontgate’ allowed the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement to be blamed on the IRA, and briefly extended the political life of former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

In a dramatic development on Thursday, the public prosecutor told Belfast Crown Court that it was withdrawing all evidence against the men and a prosecution was “no longer in the public interest”.

With no evidence against them, Mr Justice Hart ruled that the three men should be found not guilty.

The three men returned to Stormont at the weekend to attend a Sinn Féin press conference.

“The five people charged with Stormontgate were found not guilty of charges,” said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

“The raid on the Sinn Féin offices in this building was carried out in the glare of publicity. I think that has very clearly become a pattern of political policing.

“There are elements within the Special Branch, in the old RUC Special Branch [ and] some of them are still active in the PSNI, who continue to be at war with Irish republicans.

“They continue to oppose Sinn Féin. They are opposed to the peace process.”

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness described the events of ‘Operation Torsion’ as “a carefully constructed lie created by the Special Branch in order to cause maximum political impact”.

“Its effect politically has been to collapse the institutions and personally it has damaged the lives of the four people originally charged and their families,” he said.

“This operation is as blatant an example of political policing as you are likely to find.”

Denis Donaldson said the PSNI raid “was part of a Save Dave [ David Trimble] campaign initially and was also designed to bring down the institutions, which it did.”

Ciaran Kearney said: “There was massive misinformation on a grand scale. The Police Ombudsman in a report two years ago found that elements within the police were leaking information and said these leaks were timed to coincide with political events.

“The problem we have as people who have been found not guilty is that we were tried by the media in the first place. . . and that we have not been given a chance to vindicate ourselves. Now the courts have and I hope that the media turn their focus on the elements in Special Branch that brought down the Assembly.”

He said the media bias against the three men was “widespread”.

“There were very few journalists who did not buy into it. I hope there are journalists who have changed their minds and that they have taken a fresh look at this.

“The media are empowered to investigate things themselves. I think there are clear lines of inquiry that they should follow and they are all within the PSNI,” Mr Kearney said.

Speaking to journalists later, Billy Mackessy, a former porter at Stormont, said the effect of the last three years on his family and their lives had been “devastating”.

He was “very angry at the PSNI because I’ve always known this was politically motivated”.

“The fact is they didn’t have any evidence and in my view just used Denis Donaldson, Ciaran Kearney and myself as scapegoats to bring down the Executive and try to damage Sinn Féin.

“While they achieved their objective in disrupting democracy, they never seemed to produce any evidence at any stage in the last three years.”

Mr Mackessy hit out at sections of the media for repeating security briefings about him which he insisted were “deliberate disinformation”.

He also expressed frustration that the case against him and his co-defendants had been thrown out without even an apology from the prosecuting authorities.

And he said that, despite the fact he and his co-accused have been vindicated as innocent, the PSNI has stepped up harassment of his family in recent times.

“Even on Sunday night in Ardoyne, the same peelers as usual came over to the car outside a friend’s house and started hassling us.”


“This entire episode started for us at 5 o’clock one Friday morning,” said Jane Kearney, wife of Ciaran Kearney.

“Armed men, hyped-up and highly aggressive, shouting and banging, wearing masks and black boiler suits smashed their way in to our house and placed us under room arrest - with no regard whatsoever for the presence of two small children who were terrified.”

“We were all in shock and I remember asking if I could phone my parents to get them over to help us, at which stage the peelers started laughing. But I picked up the phone anyway and mammy answered and I told her the peelers were raiding the house and she said they’re raiding here too. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

Mrs Donaldson only remembers the PSNI invading her house “like a herd of cattle” and then receiving her daughter’s helpless phone call.

“I couldn’t take it in. I was in shock. I know they placed us under room arrest and that’s about all I can remember from the raid,” Mrs Donaldson said.

Almost simultaneously, father and husband were arrested by the PSNI and taken away. Mother and daughter were “left devastated, trying to cope with a completely unreal situation”, Mrs Kearney said.

At the same time, the PSNI raided Sinn Féin’s offices at Parliament Buildings.

Over the following 48 hours, the media published the names, addresses, ages, and personal backgrounds of all those arrested. Unsubstantiated and untrue allegations about the raids and arrests littered the media like confetti both before and after charges were preferred.

After Denis Donaldson was charged on Sunday, October 6, 2002, his daughter answered her front door the following day to find an English journalist who called her by name. She shut the door in his face, only to open it a few hours later to another PSNI raiding party.

“They came back on the Monday afternoon, and maybe because the girls were at school and they didn’t need me to hold it together, I was more physically upset. At the time of the second raid, Mammy had been put on sedatives by the doctor and was sleeping up the stairs in my house. We just couldn’t believe it,” Mrs Kearney said.

“I remember, in particular, someone coming in supposedly to take carpet fibre samples, yet they weren’t wearing any gloves and there was no attempt to avoid cross-contamination. They took most of Ciaran’s clothes.”

Mrs Donaldson said the PSNI “were grasping at straws to try and keep Ciaran”.

“They didn’t get any evidence during the first raid and they didn’t get any during the second raid, yet they still held him for seven days before charging him. I couldn’t believe it. It was terrible.”

After being remanded to Maghaberry Prison, both Ciaran Kearney and Denis Donaldson were kept apart, prevented from even sharing a cell for over a month.

Their families were deeply concerned that the presence of loyalists and criminals put their lives in danger.

While trying to manage prison visits in a co-ordinated way, the families faced consistent and disruptive harassment from prison warders.

Subsequent High Court bail applications were “a sham”, Mrs Kearney said.

“The PSNI approach was about sullying the reputations of my husband and my father with some of the most bizzare and untrue allegations you could ever imagine. Denis was made out to be Bin Laden’s man in Ireland and Ciaran was supposed to have spoken at a major public meeting in America. It was ludicrous, but also highly dangerous because untrue allegations were being made and then carried verbatim by the media to justify the so-callled ‘spy-ring’ fantasy.”

Mrs Donaldson was too ill to attend any of the bail applications but she hit out at the “vindictiveness” shown against her husband and son-in-law. Despite both men being eventually released after three months under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, they had to wait exactly three more years to have their long-held assertions of innocence vindicated by Justice Hart on Thursday.

“There was absolutely nothing to it apart from dirty tricks and underhand political policing by Special Branch. They had no evidence, yet turned our lives upside down for over three years. And despite the direction of ‘not guilty’, there are still people trying to cast a shadow over their innocence,” Mrs Donaldson said.

Mrs Kearney said the families are still waiting to get large amounts of personal belonging back from the PSNI.

“Ciaran’s father, Oliver, was in very poor health before the arrests and afterwards he deteriorated rapidly. It had a terrible effect on him and he died a few months after Ciaran got out on bail.

“The real examination now must be about Operation Torsion and political policing. If they can tear down a government and wreck lives once, they can do it again.

“These people think they are a law unto themselves,” Mrs Kearney said.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News