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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 June, 2004, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Four cleared of dissident plot
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Four County Tyrone men have been cleared of a dissident republican plot to murder police and soldiers.

It had been alleged they were set up by missing south Armagh man Gareth O'Connor.

Donald Mullan, 33, from Firmount Park, Dungannon, Sean Dillion, 27, of Roughan Way, Coalisland, Kevin Murphy, 33, of Altmore Park, Coalisland and Brendan O'Connor, 26, of Cavanoneill Road, Pomeroy, were acquitted of conspiracy to murder and having a rocket launcher in Coalisland in February 2002.

Mr Justice Girvan had already acquitted the four of belonging to the Real IRA after ruling it was not an illegal organisation under current legislation.

He told Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday that while many aspects of the men's claims remained "unconvincing and strained," a "reasonable doubt" remained as to their guilt "in the minds of the court".

In his judgement, Mr Justice Girvan said "the role of Gareth O'Connor remains enigmatic as an informer playing an active role in liaison with the police".

'Unanswered questions'

He added that there were "unanswered questions" surrounding Mr O'Connor "as to his involvement and as to the pressures and inducement that may have been exerted on him to bring about the capturing of the defendants".

However, the judge said the men's acquittal should not be interpreted as a finding that "police colluded with Gareth O'Connor or anybody else to plant the rocket launcher".

Mr Justice Girvan said the men were acquitted because "the case against the defendants has not been proven".

"The quantum of proof in a criminal case is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is different from proof on a balance of probabilities," he added.

The four men said their acquittal was "the best ruling any judge could have given, bearing in mind the evidence".

They said that both they and the family of Gareth O'Connor were victims.

BBC NI's Rosy Billingham:
Mr Justice Girvan said the men were acquitted because the case against the defendants has not been proven


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