In a hearing which flows from a complex series of events starting with allegations of political corruption involving the sale of Nama’s Northern Ireland loanbook, today a forensic expert gave evidence about electronic messages from 2015.
The details emerged as Mr Bryson, who is representing himself, cross-examined a police officer during a preliminary investigation hearing at Downpatrick Magistrates Court.
Mr Bryson is charged along with former MLA Daithi McKay from Loughan Road, Dunamanagh, and Sinn Féin member Thomas O’Hara from Lisnahunshin Road, Cullybackey with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
All three deny the charges and sought a preliminary investigation, which began on Monday, to have the case thrown out before trial.
In 2015, Mr Bryson alleged at a Stormont committee hearing that there was corruption around the sale of Nama’s £1.1 billion Northern Ireland property portfolio. Under Assembly privilege, he claimed that First Minister Peter Robinson stood to benefit from £7m moved to an offshore bank account as part of the deal.
Mr Robinson immediately rebutted that, saying he was never offered “a single penny”.
It subsequently emerged that there had been prior contact between the loyalist and Mr McKay, the committee chairman.
Today IT forensic expert Thomas Marryat confirmed that at the request of the PSNI he examined an email from Mr Bryson to Mr Allister’s assistant Sammy Morrison which contained 43 image files “purporting to be screenshots of Twitter messages between Mr McKay and Mr Bryson”.
He said that after digital examination the files were found to have the same internal metadata and were consistent with having been captured on an Apple iPhone 6 or 6S handset but that was “not to the exclusion of other possibilities”.
The context of the email was not made clear in open court and the nature of the hearing means that various parts of the evidence are being mentioned but not being fully set out at this stage.
In September 2019 the expert examined a further 50 screenshots obtained from Mr O’Hara. He said that 46 of those were of higher quality and had one type of metadata while the other four were different and the file names suggested some images were missing. Referring to the four images, he said that their differences were “unexplained and I am unable to provide a reason why these might have been at a lower resolution than the other images”.
Later, Mr Bryson put it to PSNI officer Niall McCready that DUP chairman Lord Morrow had conducted an internal DUP inquiry “which alleged that the people coaching me were members of his [Mr Robinson’s] own party...senior MPs from his own party engaging with me prior to the Nama hearing.”
Mr McCready said he was unaware of any internal DUP inquiry.
Legal arguments will conclude today before District Judge Mark McGarrity decides whether there is sufficient evidence to send the case for trial.
Heckler halts hearing
Today’s hearing was halted for some time after a series of interruptions – some of which may have been accidental, but at least one of which seemed deliberate – from members of the public following proceedings online.
The judge halted the hearing after an individual interjected to shout something in what appeared to be an attempt to mimic Mr Bryson’s voice.
That was followed by a man in a baseball cap, hoodie and glasses then appearing on screen for some time. Later another individual – signed in under the name “Raymond De Largy”, although there was no requirement for real names to be used – began speaking and was visible at a desk.
Warning those following proceedings via the live video link to remain silent, the judge said that if the disruption was repeated “efforts will be made to identify that person and inquiries might be made about that by the police”.
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