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EDITIONS
Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 14:51 GMT
Four face 'IRA smuggling' charges
Consignment of guns were seized in Florida in 1999
Consignment of guns were seized in Florida in 1999
Four people from Londonderry and Belfast have appeared in court accused of being involved in an IRA gun smuggling operation first uncovered in 1999.

The two men and two women appeared at Belfast magistrates' court on Thursday charged with helping the IRA to buy and import guns and ammunition into the UK.

They were also charged with conspiring to make available money or other property for the use of a proscribed organisation, namely the IRA.

The accused were 26-year-old Patricia O'Kane from Hillside Avenue in Dunloy, 34-year-old Paul Scott of Bellaghy Park in Dunloy, Sean Burns, 26, of Clonard Place in west Belfast and Maria Mercia Brogan, 27, of McCamphill Park in Dunloy.

Accused denied charges

They were among six people arrested in Belfast and north Antrim on Tuesday.

All four denied the charges.

A detective sergeant told the court he believed he could connect them all to the charges.

He rejected the defence claims that there was no physical or forensic evidence linking Ms O'Kane to the eight packages containing guns and ammunition.

Posting labels connected to the parcels amounted to physical evidence, he said.

The court heard that the two women "strenuously" denied the charges.

'Fair trial breached'

In her interview with the Police Service of Northern Ireland Patricia O'Kane said she had already been questioned by the FBI's investigation team.

She said: "Over three years ago I was questioned by the FBI and a grand jury and I was not charged with any offence.

"Now more than three years later the police have decided to arrest and charge me on the basis of material which had been in their possession since September 1999.

"The delay by the police has breached my right to a fair trial."

Maria Brogan said: "This charge is based on allegations against my brother who has never been arrested, charged, tried or convicted of an offence of this nature.

"The police have relied on information they have had in their possession for over three years. I have always been available for interview."

'Conspiracy'

When he was charged Sean Burns said: "The only conspiracy here is a political one."

Paul Scott also denied the charges.

A lawyer appearing for the two men asked the detective why a handwriting analysis dating back to May 2000 which formed the basis of the case against Mr Scott had lain for almost two and a half years without police taking action.

The detective told him at that time that the PSNI were not the lead investigators.

It was only on 8 November this year that all evidence from the investigation was passed to police in Belfast, he said.

"We were unable to make any informed decision until all the evidence came into our possession," he said.

All four were remanded in custody to appear in court again on 20 December.

The police said a report had been sent to the director of public prosecutions about the man and woman who did not appear in court.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Maggie Swarbrick reports:
"All of the accused denied the charges"
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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