A charge of directing terrorism against an alleged dissident republican leader is based on the contents of a smuggled note seized at a high security prison in Northern Ireland, a court has heard.
Londonderry taxi driver Thomas Ashe Mellon, 38, who along with the relatively rare count of directing a terror group also faces a charge of membership of a proscribed organisation, was remanded in custody at the city’s Magistrates’ Court after a district judge refused his application for bail.
The court heard that last Thursday a note written on joined up pieces of cigarette paper and wrapped in cling film was found in the possession of a visitor, referred to as Mr O, at Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim.
Mr O, who was ejected before the contents of the 1 sq cm package was established and is currently being hunted by police, was there to visit an inmate held in the wing occupied by members of the so-called “new IRA”.
A police officer told district judge Barney McElholm that DNA and hand-writing tests on the letter, signed ‘T’, provided evidence that Mellon was the author.
But Mellon’s lawyer insisted his client did not accept he had written the note.
The solicitor said the case against Mellon was “very, very weak”.
The detective constable read the contents of the letter to the court.
Subjects referred to included: a guilty plea having been entered by a dissident republican in a recent court case; difficulty identifying a “Brussel” (the officer said “Brussels sprout” was rhyming slang for tout); the funeral of a colleague; apparent concerns around other dissident groups operating without the new IRA’s knowledge; and inmates divulging too much information to visitors.
Separate lines in the note included:
“Car owner threaten not to appear in court.”
“I will not allow any dual army operating along with the IRA and us not knowing anything.”
“Regarding guilty pleas people are starting to ask that we the leadership are asking POWs to plead guilty.”
“If things had worked out well we would have been cheering on the army after a few stiffs.”
“Have a word that POWs should not engage in loose talk.”
Father-of-four Mellon, wearing a salmon-coloured polo shirt, did not speak from the dock when asked if he understood the charges facing him and refused to stand when requested to do so at the outset of proceedings.
The detective constable said police believed Mellon, from Rathmore Road in Londonderry, had a “prominent position within the IRA” in Londonderry and expressed fear he would engage in terror attacks if bailed.
The officer said a full DNA profile matching Mellon had been found on the edges of the cigarette papers and hand writing testing on the letter “supported” it having been written by him.
She claimed further hand writing analysis had the potential to increase the assessment that he was the author to one of “strong support”.
The officer said a search of the accused’s house had found a packet of cigarette papers but no other smoking paraphernalia.
She noted that during three days of police interviewing, when he made no response to all questions, he had never requested to go for a smoke.
The officer told the court that Mr O had gone to Maghaberry to visit Seamus McLaughlin, a convicted offender held in a section of the prison occupied by members of the extremist group that styles itself as the “new IRA”.
The detective said a police officer with no knowledge of what had happened in Maghaberry said he observed Mr O talking to Mellon at a restaurant on the Glenshane pass stretch of road between Belfast and Londonderry less than two hours after the item had been seized.
Mellon was arrested in the early hours of the following day in north Belfast.
The accused’s lawyer Paddy McDermott said his client denied the charges. “Mr Mellon does not accept that he is the author of the note,” he said.
Additionally, the solicitor insisted the contents of the letter did not even amount to a charge of directing terrorism, claiming it did not contain any instructions.
“It doesn’t direct somebody to do anything or not to do anything,” he said.
The lawyer added: “It’s more of a rant rather than directing anybody to do anything.”
He said only two people had been convicted of directing terrorism in Ireland, namely high profile loyalist Johnny Adair and, in the Republic of Ireland, Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt.
Addressing concerns that Mellon would abscond from the jurisdiction if bailed, Mr McDermott insisted his job and family meant he was firmly rooted in Londonderry.
But Judge McElholm said the case represented an “extremely serious matter”.
“There have been a number of serious terrorist incidents over the last few years,” he said.
Rejecting the bail application, he said: “Fear of further offences is a very real one and that coupled with the public interest means I will be refusing bail in this case.”
Mellon waved to clapping supporters in the public gallery as he was led from the dock. Minutes later a crowd of around 30 people cheered him as he was escorted to a police car.
He gave a thumbs up sign before he was driven away.