16 January 2006

Spy case dropped over sensitive material

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
16 January 2006

Prosecutors believed the Stormont spy case would stand up in court but dropped it because sensitive material would have been disclosed to the defence, a new report indicated today.

Britain's most senior law officer, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, revealed in a letter to MPs that he had appointed a special counsel to help review evidence before the case was abandoned.

Westminster's Northern Ireland Affairs Committee released Lord Goldsmith's letter as a special report this afternoon, because they "felt the letter was of sufficient importance to be published immediately".

In the letter, the Attorney General once again refused to specify the reasons for dropping the case but explained more about the background.

Last month, prosecutors offered no evidence against Sinn Fein official Denis Donaldson, his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney and Stormont messenger William Mackessy. The men were declared not guilty by Belfast Crown Court.

In the letter published today, Lord Goldsmith says that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Alasdair Fraser, was happy that "the evidential test continued to be met" - in other words, he thought the case would have stood up in court.

But he indicated that the prosecution had material which they may have been required to disclose to the defence, but which could violate "an important public interest such as national security or putting an individual's life at risk".

In those circumstances, a judge not involved in the case reviews the material to decide whether it is necessary to the defence, and he may be assisted by the Attorney General's special counsel.

Lord Goldsmith said he appointed a special counsel in the case, an indication that a judge reviewed the evidence.

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