Three Belfast men who were accused of conspiring to rob a city centre restaurant have had the charge against them dismissed.
John Neale, 51, Gerard Flannigan, 37, and Joseph Tully, 51, appeared at Belfast Magistrates’ Court over an alleged weekend plot to raid a Boojum burrito bar.
But a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to meet the legal test for connecting any of them with the charge.
Mr Flannigan, of Siulnamona Court, and Mr Tully, from the Falls Road, were immediately released from the dock after their prosecution was ended.
Meanwhile, Mr Neale, of Clonfaddan Street, was remanded in custody on separate charges of possessing a handgun in suspicious circumstances and having cocaine with intent to supply.
Police and the prosecution claimed the three men were involved in a conspiracy to rob the restaurant on Chichester Street.
The court heard surveillance and CCTV footage showed Mr Neale allegedly parking near Boojum on Sunday morning and remaining there for an hour and a half.
During that period, according to the police case, he was in contact with his two co-accused five times.
So-called “burner” phones were used to communicate with Mr Flannigan and Mr Tully while they were in a car at another location, it was alleged.
However, defence lawyers argued that there was a complete lack of evidence to connect any of them with the specific charge of conspiring to rob Boojum.
Solicitor Paul Farrell, representing Mr Tully, insisted: “The court has to satisfy itself there’s reasonable suspicion to mount a charge.
“We have not heard one fact that would suggest there was a conspiracy.”
He added: “If we don’t have judicial control the prosecution and the police service could go wild.”
Counsel for Mr Flannigan, Jonathan Browne, backed his submissions and criticised the police for the “emotive” description of the phones allegedly used.
Following submissions District Judge Fiona Bagnall stressed she could base her decision on the evidence presented.
“I’m not satisfied to the low standard of reasonable suspicion, I’m not finding a connection (to the conspiracy charge).”
Mr Flannigan and Mr Tully were then freed, while Mr Neale was remanded in custody on the remaining charges against him.
His lawyer pointed out police have confirmed no weapon was found on him when he was arrested.
The firearm was instead allegedly discovered during follow-up searches at another location in Belfast.