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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
IRA membership charges dropped
IRA membership charges against four men accused of abducting a dissident republican were dropped because that organisation was not specified, a court has been told.

Crown prosecutor Charles McKay told the High Court in Belfast on Monday that the police believed the offence against Bobby Tohill was carried out on behalf of the Provisional IRA.

Paramilitary groups are "specified" by the government when they do not have a recognised ceasefire or are in breach of their declared ceasefire.

Defence lawyer Joe Brolly said no statement of complaint had been made by the injured party, Mr Tohill.

The information was relayed to the court as Thomas Tolan, 32, a professional boxer, was granted four hours compassionate bail to visit his 11-year-old daughter in hospital.

Mr McKay told the court that the police opposed bail because of Mr Tolan's risk of re-offending due to his alleged involvement with the IRA.

"This was a very serious incident... no ordinary abduction," he said.

'Dragged into van'

He said four men, including Mr Tolan, entered Kelly's Cellars in Belfast on 20 February and singled out Bobby Tohill.

"One sprayed his face with a gas canister to incapacitate and subdue him, while all four knocked him to the ground and dragged him out the front door," he said.

"Outside they violently assaulted him with extendable batons and kicked and punched him as he lay on the ground."

They then dragged him into the back of a van and drove through Castle Street towards Franklin Street, stopping at traffic lights on the dual carriageway, he said.

"The police were alerted and tried to stop the van by placing their vehicle ahead of it," he said.

"The van driver tried to drive off but collided with the front of the police vehicle. The officers drew their firearms and detained all the men in the van."

Mr Tohill suffered "considerable" head injuries, he said, and had 96 stitches to his head and body.

The four other men in the van were arrested under the Terrorism Act but refused to answer questions.

They were charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent, false imprisonment and possession of items likely to be of use to terrorists.

'Paramilitary people'

Mr McKay told the court that an initial charge of IRA membership was withdrawn because the organisation was not specified under the law.

But Mr Tolan's lawyer, Joe Brolly, objected that this should not be mentioned under rules of evidence.

Mr Justice Coghlin said it would not help his client if the membership charge could not be brought because a group was on "some so-called ceasefire".

"The people engaged in this were paramilitary people. That is my view," he said.

Mr Brolly objected that the judge was taking this view without any evidence.

"The court has no political function nor does it have to take cognisance of what the media say," he said.

Mr Justice Coghlin assured him it had no political function and offered to step down from the case and allow another judge to hear it. Mr Brolly said he was sure he would be "scrupulously fair".





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