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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Businessman denies IRA asset link
Thomas Murphy in 1990
Thomas Murphy is alleged to be a senior IRA leader
A Manchester businessman whose home and offices were raided as part of a probe into IRA assets has denied knowing prominent member Thomas "Slab" Murphy.

Dermot Craven and Brian Pepper's property firm was raided on Thursday by the Assets Recovery Agency.

At a news conference, Mr Craven said he had not even known who Mr Murphy was until last week.

He said he had done business with Mr Murphy's brother but denied involvement in any illegal activity.

He said he and his business partner had been "unjustly vilified". The ARA has said its investigation relates to assets in 250 properties worth 9m, but has not confirmed press reports that the body is searching for links with Thomas Murphy.

Mr Murphy is widely considered to be the head of the IRA.

Mr Craven told reporters at a news conference he had never met or spoken to Mr Murphy, but he and Mr Pepper had done business with his brother Frank Murphy.

I have never met this man, spoken to him or carried out any business dealings with him - there is no connection with Thomas Murph
Dermot Craven

And it was revealed that Mr Pepper - who was not at the news conference - had attended a Murphy family funeral where Thomas Murphy was present.

Mr Pepper - who is from Dundalk - is company secretary of a firm that Frank Murphy owns, Sailor Property, which owns seven properties.

These properties are all managed by Mr Craven and Mr Pepper's firm.

But Mr Craven said they had dealt with Frank Murphy on only a tiny number of properties, and that he was bewildered by the raids.

He said if there had been any impropriety, it was because he had been duped.

He added: "I have met Frank Murphy a number of times, he is a really nice guy.

"At that time I didn't know Thomas Murphy was Frank Murphy's brother."

Mr Craven said he phoned Frank Murphy after the raids.

'Totally innocent'

Mr Craven said: "It was like a nightmare... a wild dream gone wrong.

"My business partner and I have been unjustly vilified by an investigation into [something] which we are totally innocent [of]."

Mr Craven said he had not even known who Thomas Murphy was, and that he himself barely understood the political situation in Northern Ireland and had no views.

He said: "If it is the case that clients have purchased property through us, through the use of money that is derived from criminal activity then we know nothing of this.

Dermot Craven appeared at a news conference
Dermot Craven appeared at a news conference

"All monies come through solicitors and banks and not in the form of cash.

"This is true for all of our clients. I understand that a lot of press and ARA inquiries focus on Thomas Murphy from Ireland.

"I have never met this man, spoken to him or carried out any business dealings with him. There is no connection with Thomas Murphy."

Documents were seized in the Manchester searches, which took place 10 days after the IRA put its weapons beyond use and on the day Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams met Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street.

Thomas Murphy lost a libel case against The Sunday Times in 1998, after challenging the newspaper's description of him as a prominent IRA member.

The authorities on both sides of the border have been investigating him for years.

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