13 October 2005 Edition
Victim exposes Manchester farce
By LAURA FRIEL
"Surreal", "like a joke," was the way in which Manchester businessman Dermot Craven has described raids by the Asset Recovery Agency of his premises, home and the home of his business partner, Brian Pepper.
Appearing at a press conference with his solicitor, Dermot Craven insisted he was innocent of any wrong doing and described the ARA's accusations as "wild". "Does Walt Disney know the imagination of these people, he could give them a job," said Craven.
Craven described the distress caused to his family by the raiding party and the widespread publicity accompanying totally unsubstantiated allegations. The ARA claimed that the Craven Group company were linked to a '£30 million alleged IRA property empire'.
"My business partner and I have been unjustly vilified by an investigation in which we are totally innocent. I understand that a lot of press inquiries focus on Thomas Murphy from Ireland. I have never spoken to him or carried out any business dealings with him," Craven told the press.
According to Craven's solicitor elevated claims that the ARA were investigating 250 properties have already been whittled down to seven and documents seized during the raids have already been returned.
Craven told the media he had been contacted by the ARA by telephone. "It was like a joke," he said, "I just couldn't understand what was going on. I'd never heard of the ARA."
The solicitor questioned why so many officers had been used to carry out the raids and suggested it had been a publicity stunt. "They were there to get your juices working," the lawyer told journalists, "The ARA wanted you to make a big deal about this." According to the solicitor during the raid police officers mostly sat about doing nothing, smoking in reception. "They sat in the waiting room, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and burning the carpet."
Michael Kenyon, from Cooper Kenyon Burrows solicitors representing Dermot Craven, said he thought the public had been manipulated by the ARA. In a statement the solicitor said that the Craven Group were assisting the ARA.
"We would like to emphasise that it is a civil inquiry and there is no suggestion of any wrong doing by the group or any of its staff. As far as the Craven Group is concerned it is business as usual," said Kenyon.
In an interview with media Kenyon described his client as the victim of "a political agenda". The solicitor criticised the ARA for having "manipulated the media" and questioned why tens of thousands of pounds had been spent on targeting his client.
"It is clear that the ARA have been deliberately feeding the media in a way designed to enhance their own profile without any proper consideration for my client's rights and for the fact that they are innocent — as anyone can see because they are not accused of any crime," said Kenyon.
Dismissing speculation regarding £30 million and 250 properties as "complete rubbish" the lawyer accused the ARA of "fostering a belief or an approach which clearly suggests otherwise and quite frankly, that is unacceptable," he said.
"For the first time in my life I've agreed with Gerry Adams when he said there was a political agenda. I also think there is a political agenda by the NIO and Peter Hain and this government in the way they are now dealing with these matters. They are playing politics with people's lives," said Kenyon.
The timing, high-profile nature of the ARA's actions and orchestrated media briefings accompanying them have led most commentators to conclude that a political agenda lies behind the ARA actions.
The timing of the raids and media briefings coincided with a meeting in Downing Street between the British Prime Minister and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to discuss restoration of the power sharing institutions. Tony Blair also met DUP leader Ian Paisley.
Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy said it was clear that the ARA raids in Manchester were politically motivated and based entirely on innuendo, spin and malicious briefing.
"There is a clear responsibility on the two governments to sack those securocrats responsible for using their positions in organisations like the ARA to undermine the Peace Process," said Murphy.
"Such individuals not only undermine the political process but also undermine public confidence in the impartiality and ability of groups like the ARA to properly carry out the important job of seizing criminal assets," said Murphy.