19 March 1998 Edition

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Doubts over evidence used to expel Sinn Féin

A US lawyer who met RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan in the week that Sinn Féin was expelled from the talks has revealed that Flanagan was unable to provide evidence linking the IRA or Sinn Féin to the killings which were used as the basis for the party's expulsion.

Tom Burke was part of a 5-day fact finding tour of the Six Counties by The Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland. Burke and the other lawyers met Flanagan at the RUC headquarters in Belfast on 19 February.

Burke said: ``Given the `indisputable evidence' standard of determining whether the Mitchell Principles of non-violence had been `disavowed,' several of us asked Flanagan just exactly what the evidence consisted of, in light of Sinn Féin's denial of involvement and its public report that the IRA considered its ceasefire intact.

``Other than to confirm that the evidence had to do with the arrest of three men accused of killing a West Belfast UDA man, Bobby Duggan, in Belfast... the Chief Constable couldn't be more specific, he said, because to float facts might prejudice someone's later trial.

``What he did instead, he reported, was to furnish Mo Mowlam an `intelligence report' in confidence.

``Based on this, he said, Mowlam had reached certain conclusions, ie, that the Mitchell Principles had indeed been breached and that the IRA had been involved. In response to comments that in order to constitute `evidence', somebody should have the right - at a minimum - to see it, and that if it was supposed to be `indisputable,' that somebody should have the right to controvert it, Flanagan replied, irritated, that this was not possible and that what he had found was in fact incontrovertible.

``Well, asked one of the group, she had read in the press that some of the `evidence' said to be relied upon consisted of results of forensic analysis of bullet striations which matched those of the pistol barrel of a captured IRA weapon used in an earlier IRA operation, so was this some of the evidence he reported on?

``Flanagan confirmed that indeed the press had reported about those tests. His questioner went on: Can you confirm what we also heard, that the forensic tests turned out to be negative? After an embarrassed pause, Flanagan admitted the tests had indeed been negative. Well, then, did the evidence consist of other things we had heard about, such as gunpowder residue on clothing worn by the three suspects in the killing of the UDA man? Yes, said Flanagan, his men had come across clothing similar to that reportedly worn by the assailants and were testing it; problem was, though, that it had been laundered and because of that so far they had no good results. What was the clothing? Wash pants, sweat shirts and baseball caps, concededly of the sort worn by half of West Belfast, was the reply.

``Were the three suspects charged with IRA membership, itself a crime? No, Flanagan said, there was insufficient evidence of that.

The Constable finally declaimed he was personally convinced of the suspects' IRA involvement because the IRA had signaled they would accept the three suspects into their H-Block wing at `Maze Prison' while on remand, a telling admission in his eyes, and with which we must presumably all, as fair minded people, agree.

``Two days earlier I had met Martin Mogg. The official Governor of all prison facilities in the Six Counties, he informed us he was on temporary assignment...at `Her Majesty's Prison, The Maze.'

Then...Mogg opined that as distinct from past Maze regimes, as far as he was concerned the Long Kesh IRA H-Blocks were a prisoner of war camp.

``Mogg then delivered us... to H-Block 4's wings C and D. There, extraditees Joe Doherty and Jimmy Smyth met us, with smiles and warm welcomes, for a three hour tour of the two wings.

``Among the prisoners there was Seán Kelly, the son of Briege and Jim - Jim had provided all our transportation while in the north.

``Just before we departed for H-Block 4, Mogg offered, almost as an aside, that he knew Seán Kelly's conviction, and that of another young man named Timmins, were clearly `dodgy', and that neither was `any more in the IRA than they could fly to the moon.'

``He was just grateful, Mogg said, that the Provisionals were willing to take in these two to serve their sentences in IRA H-Block wings.

Whether Mogg's gratitude had been communicated to Constable Flanagan, who has come to different conclusions about IRA H-Block hospitality, is unknown.''

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