13 January 2006

Orde's new details ended spying case

Belfast Telegraph

Blair's role not part of decision

By Chris Thornton and Michael McHugh
13 January 2006

The decision to drop charges in the Stormont spy case was sparked by information from Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde and not Ministers, the Government repeated yesterday as a new row broke out.

Solicitor General Mike O'Brien revealed that Prime Minister Tony Blair was consulted about the case, but almost a year before the trial collapsed.

Mr O'Brien said the Prime Minister's involvement "formed no part" of the decision to drop charges in the case that ultimately exposed Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson as a being a British agent.

Mr Blair was questioned by the DUP earlier this week about his links to the case, and he repeated that "as far as I am aware, I certainly was not consulted on whether this prosecution should be dropped".

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he was not satisfied with the answers. "What precisely is the truth?" he asked.

"Given the Prime Minister's track record of making misleading statements on issues relating to Northern Ireland it is easy to doubt the sincerity of Mr Blair's answers."

Charges against the three republicans accused of being involved in the spy ring, including Mr Donaldson, were dropped suddenly on December 8. The three men had denied the charges.

At the time, the chief prosecutor in the case, Gordon Kerr QC, said the charges were being dropped because of new information provided by the Chief Constable.

Mr Kerr said it was deemed "in the public interest" to offer no evidence in the case. Mr O'Brien repeated that the decision to drop charges "was informed by facts and information provided by the chief constable in November 2005 following a further development in the trial process."

"No ministerial consultation took place," he said.

Mr O'Brien said the only consultation on the decision to drop charges had been between Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland, Sir Alasdair Fraser.

The consultation involving the PM was a routine request that had to do with another aspect of the case, Mr O'Brien indicated. He said the then Northern Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, had been asked for information, along with Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, responsible for MI5 and MI6.

Jane Winter from British Irish Rights Watch said: "I'd like to know when the Chief Constable knew Donaldson was an informer," she said.

A PSNI representative said: "PSNI understands the reasons given by the Prosecution Service for withdrawal of charges against three individuals."

"The entitlement of the three individuals to the presumption of innocence remains intact."


Move to distance Ministers from collapse of legal action

By Chris Thornton

The Government seems no closer to telling the public how the public interest was served by dropping the charges in the Stormont spy case.

But the latest bit of information that has emerged about the case serves to reinforce Government claims that the decision to drop the case was not political.

By linking the collapse of the case to information from the police, Solicitor General Mike O'Brien is distancing it from Ministers.

The picture is still far from complete, but Mr O'Brien has set out some of the timings involved.

His intervention may close the gap between Prime Minister Tony Blair's reference to there being no consultation with Ministers about the collapse of the case and a statement by the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, saying that Cabinet members were consulted.

According to Mr O'Brien, Ministers were consulted about the case against Denis Donaldson, Ciaran Kearney and William Mackessy in January, 2005.

Mr O'Brien told DUP MP Nigel Dodds that "an issue" arose in the case at that time that prompted the Attorney General to carry out what is known as a Shawcross exercise.

The practice, named after former Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross, involves the Attorney General writing to fellow Ministers asking them if they have any information about the case that "might bear on the consideration of the public interest".

The information that came from Ministers at that stage "formed no part" of the eventual decision to drop charges, Mr O'Brien said.

He indicated that the key point in the case came from "facts and information provided by the Chief Constable" in November, a matter of days before the case was withdrawn on December 8.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Gordon Kerr QC, had said at the time that information from the Chief Constable had prompted the withdrawal of charges.

Afterwards, the Prime Minister told Parliament that "no Minister had anything whatever to do with the decision".

He added: "Obviously, we were not consulted about this matter; it has to be a decision taken by the independent prosecuting authorities".

Can ANYONE doubt after following this case that the British security services RUN northern Ireland? They precipitated the collapse of power-sharing with this fake 'spy-scandal'. Now the British government says the security apparatus decides independently to drop prosecutions if they may turn up info embarrassing to the security services themselves.

The political arm of the British Army indeed!

Tommy NYC
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