A Lurgan man set up by the MI5 agent posing as an arms dealer was found guilty by a non-jury Diplock court this week despite substantial legal concerns over entrapment and the virtual purchase of his arrest.
An MI5 agent using the name ‘Ali’ and a paid civilian ‘Amir’ helped to secured the arrest of Paul McCaugherty in a two-year undercover sting operation.
‘Amir’ successfully inveigled a friend of the Lurgan man, Desmond Kearns, to arrange the sale of cigarettes and arms to McCaugherty. ‘Amir’ had been promised hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure the arrest.
Mr Kearns was originally charged along with Mr McCaugherty but his trial was halted earlier this month when it was ruled that ‘Amir’ had wrongfully entrapped him.
Nevertheless, Mr McCaugherty was found guilty on Tuesday “of trying to smuggle a huge cache of weapons and explosives into Northern Ireland”.
Convicting him of a string of offences related to the sting, Justice Hart, ruling in the non-jury case, claimed the evidence against the Lurgan man was “extremely compelling”.
“He was one of a group of terrorists determined to buy arms and explosives to carry out attacks on members of the security forces in Northern Ireland,” he declared.
Mr McCaugherty -- and another man involved in the sting, Declan Gregory from South Armagh -- were both convicted of buying a restaurant in Portugal with the intention of selling it off and giving the proceeds to the breakaway ‘Real IRA’.
However, despite his conviction, Gregory has been widely accused of acting as a high level informer in the case.
Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy today said that there was a widely held belief locally that Gregory was ‘controlling, manipulating and directing’ the activities of the RIRA for over a decade.
Reports have indicated that Gregory, who had no previous association with Irish republicanism, agreed to assume the role of an agent provocateur after he was arrested for a serious sexual assault. At that time the authorities did not proceed with any charges against him.
Mr Murphy said the case of Gregory “confirms what Sinn Fein have been saying for some time” with regard to the breakaway IRA groups.
He pointed to an Irish News interview with Colm Murphy, part of which contained a handwritten confession from Gregory detailing his role as an MI5 agent.
“In addition to many of them containing known criminals and informers within their ranks there has been a long held view that the hidden and sinister hand of anti-peace process British State Agencies are at work in the background,” he said.
“Sinn Fein have raised the Gregory case with the PSNI, the Justice Minister and both governments. We will continue to expose the work of these faceless securocrats and continue to campaign to see their malign influence in Ireland brought to an end.”
The judge, ruling in the absence of a jury, rejected any suggestion that he had been entrapped and claimed Mr McCaugherty might have pursued the same course if he had been dealing with a real weapons seller.