Belfast Crown Court heard on March 30 that a guarantee that the unionist paramilitary UDA would not disband was contained in a three-page speech which was to have been given at a UDA “show of strength” in a north Belfast bar.
The speech, allegedly in the handwriting of 34-year-old Ihab Shoukri, declared while the UDA “must now take our fight into the political arena -- it’s not the end of the UDA - which is here to stay”. The speech concluded with the boast: “We will never go away, you know.”
The speech was found in the pocket of one of five men arrested along with Shoukri, of Westland Drive, Belfast.
Shoukri faces charges of UDA membership, professing to be a member and supporting the UDA “by assisting in arranging or managing a meeting” of the North’s largest unionist paramilitary group.
Just prior to the start of the trial trouble flared. PSNI police in riot gear were called to the Langanside courthouse and stood guard as the men were kept separated by prison and security staff in the dock for the Diplock, non-jury case.
The following day, the trial came to a dramatic halt yesterday when the judge dismissed himself from the case.
Justice Gillen spoke briefly only to announce: “The interests of justice require me to re-cuse myself.”
The judge’s unexpected decision led to muted cheers from some of the defendants.
The judge said it had been brought to his attention that case papers given to him contained certain details “which may be adverse” to some of the defendants.
He said he had not read any of the material but had nonetheless decided that justice should not only be done “but also be seen to be done”.
The judge said a new trial would start on Monday. He freed all six defendants on continuing bail.