Three men suspected of being “leading members of a terrorist organisation” – including Lurgan republican Colin Duffy – are due to appear in court later this week on charges arising from covert surveillance.
Whilst Duffy had a charge of attempted murder withdrawn on Monday, he and two others are due to stand trial on other terrorist-related offences, including directing terrorism.
It is the Crown’s case that the trio were secretly recorded in December 2013 having a conversation close to Duffy’s Forest Glade home following a murder bid on police in the Ardoyne area of Belfast.
Duffy, 49, and his co-accused Henry Joseph Fitzsimons, 48, of no fixed abode, and 55-year-old Alex McCrory from Sliabh Dubh View in Belfast, initially faced a total of 10 charges arising mainly from both video and audio recordings.
All three faced a charge of attempting to murder members of the PSNI in the Ardoyne area of Belfast on December 5, 2013, after shots were fired at a police convoy travelling along the Crumlin Road.
Prior to all three entering their pleas to the terrorist-related offences, legal teams for each of the accused launched a ‘no bill’ application in a bid to have the charges withdrawn.
Mr Justice Colton gave his ruling on the ‘no bill’ application on Monday, and found that whilst there was evidence to charge both McCrory and Fitzsimons for attempted murder, there was insufficient evidence to proceed with the same charge against Duffy.
The senior judge also withdrew a charge all three faced of conspiring to murder members of the PSNI on a date between December 31, 2012 and December 16, 2013.
The Crown had argued that the recorded conversations – where three men were recorded talking about the Ardoyne shooting, and future attacks on police – demonstrated a conspiracy to murder.
However, Judge Colton said that whilst the conversations demonstrated approval of and willingness to carry out such attacks, the evidence “lacks proof of the specific ingredients to make good this charge”.
Regarding a charge of the preparation of terrorist acts – namely holding a meeting at Lurgan Park to discuss matters related to the acts of terrorism on December 6, 2013 – Judge Colton said he was satisfied there was sufficient evidence against all three to pursue the charge.
Judge Colton was also asked by the defendants’ legal teams to withdraw charges against all three of both directing terrorism between December 31, 2012 and December 16, 2013, and of belonging to a proscribed organisation – namely the IRA – on the same dates.
In his ruling, the judge said each of the defendants demonstrated acts of directing terrorism.
Judge Colton told Belfast Crown Court it was his view that after reading the transcripts of the covert recording of conversation between the three men the day after the gun attack in north Belfast, there was sufficient evidence to support the claim “this was a meeting of three leading members of a terrorist organisation who were analysing the shortcomings from their perspective of the Ardoyne attack and discussing future operations by the organisation”.
Regarding the membership charge, Judge Colton said: “The conversations suggest that the participants are active members of a dissident republican terrorist organisation. They discuss in great detail the attack that was carried out on December 5, 2013, which according to the evidence was carried out in the name of the Real IRA or IRA.” Judge Colton therefore refused to withdraw this charge.
Following the withdrawal of some of the charges against Duffy, Fitzsimons and McCrory, it emerged that all three will appear at court on Thursday for their arraignment, where the remaining charges will be put to them and they will have to enter their pleas.