08 March 2006

IRA Veteran to Stand Trial for Kidnapping


By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday March 7, 2006 10:16 PM

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) - Brendan ``Bik'' McFarlane, a legendary Irish Republican Army figure who oversaw the biggest prison breakout in British history, should stand trial for kidnapping, the Irish Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The ruling reopened memories of one of the bloodiest IRA acts in the Irish Republic: the 1983 kidnapping of supermarket baron Don Tidey, when the outlawed group shot dead a police officer and soldier the moment the kidnappers' hideaway was found.

McFarlane, a confidante of Sinn Fein party chief Gerry Adams, was arrested in the Irish Republic in 1998 and was charged with the false imprisonment of Tidey and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.

But McFarlane has been free on bail since then, while his legal team fought a protracted battle with state prosecutors. In 2003, Ireland's second-highest court ruled that McFarlane could not receive a fair trial because police had lost three evidence exhibits from the kidnappers' hideaway - a cooking pot, a milk carton and a plastic container - that allegedly had McFarlane's fingerprints on them.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court overturned that verdict in a 4-1 ruling that should allow the case against McFarlane to begin later this year.

Justice Adrian Hardiman, reading the verdict, said police had retained sufficient photographic and forensic evidence from the three objects for the case to proceed.

He said McFarlane's lawyers had failed to demonstrate ``that any additional advantage might have accrued to the defendant on the basis of a comparison with the actual mark made on the item as opposed to photographs of them.''

Hardiman chided Ireland's police for what he called ``an unfortunate inability to keep track of evidence,'' and cited embarrassing examples from other high-profile cases when detectives lost key documents and forensic clues.

In November 1983, an IRA unit disguised as police officers seized Tidey. They held him for more than three weeks, demanding the equivalent of $7.5 million in ransom. A joint Irish police and army search found the kidnappers' hideaway, freeing Tidey.

But the IRA kidnappers killed a police officer and a soldier as they escaped - an exceptional event, because the IRA had a policy of not attacking security force members in the Republic of Ireland.

McFarlane received five life sentences in 1976 for his role in a gun-and-grenade attack on a Protestant pub in Belfast that killed three men, a woman and a 17-year-old girl.

He became ``officer commanding'' IRA men inside Northern Ireland's Maze prison during the group's 1981 hunger strike, which left 10 inmates dead. His secret, smuggled communications with Sinn Fein's Adams outside the prison formed a major part of the IRA narrative of that threshold event.

In September 1983, McFarlane oversaw the biggest escape in British penal history when 38 IRA members, including himself, overpowered guards and shot their way out of the Maze. He was arrested in Amsterdam in 1986 and extradited to Northern Ireland, then became one of the first IRA men to walk free from the Maze following the 1998 Good Friday peace accord. Police in the neighboring Irish Republic immediately re-arrested him, citing the fingerprint evidence from the Tidey kidnapping.

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