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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 11:43 GMT
'Stormont spying' case collapses
Police raid on Stormont
Police raided Sinn Fein offices at Stormont
Three Belfast men at the centre of an alleged IRA spying incident at Stormont have been acquitted of all charges.

The men, whose arrests led to the collapse of the power-sharing executive in 2002, claimed the case against them had been politically motivated.

At an unlisted hearing at Belfast Crown Court, Ciaran Kearney, William Mackessy and Sinn Fein's Denis Donaldson were told all charges were being dropped.

The prosecution offered no evidence "in the public interest".

The three were arrested following a police raid on Sinn Fein's offices at Parliament Buildings on 5 October 2002, when documents and computer discs were seized.

They were subsequently charged with a total of seven offences.

Mr Donaldson, 55, from Aitnamonagh Crescent who was Sinn Fein's head of administration at Stormont, and his son-in-law Mr Kearney, 34, of Commedagh Drive had been accused of having documents likely to be of use to terrorists.

Mr Mackessy, 47, from Wolfend Way was charged with collecting information on the security forces.

Denis Donaldson
Denis Donaldson was Sinn Fein's head of administration at Stormont

However, on Thursday, Prosecuting QC Gordon Kerr told Mr Justice Hart that the Director of the Public Prosecution Services was offering no further evidence in their case.

Mr Kerr told the court that directions as to prosecutions were kept under "continuing review".

"The director has concluded that having regard to the materials placed before him and his duties as a public authority under the Human Rights Act 1998 that the prosecution for the offences in relation to the accused are no longer in the public interest."

Mr Justice Hart said that the proper course of action was to return verdicts of not guilty and told the men they were "free to go".

Afterwards, Mr Donaldson said the "charges should never have been brought".

It is a prosecution that should never have been brought
Ciaran Shields

"It was political policing and political charges and the fact that we were acquitted today proves that," he said.

Mr Mackessy said he felt "disgusted with the British government for bringing charges".

Ciaran Kearney said the three men's innocence had been proven.

"Our position has been vindicated. Consistently throughout that time we have asserted our innocence and finally today, that has been recorded by the courts," he told BBC News.

"The origins of the case in October 2002, were a Special Branch covert action which led to the collapse of power-sharing.

"Our family has had a harrowing ordeal... I, Denis and Billy were vilified, demonised, misinformation was spread about us."

Solicitor Ciaran Shields who represented Mr Donaldson and Mr Mackessy, said they felt they were "victims of a political operation by elements within the security forces who deliberately used their position to hamper political progress in this country".

'Sensitive documents'

"This case had huge implications, not just for our clients and their families but for the community as a whole in the sense that these arrests led to the collapse of the power-sharing executive," he said.

The solicitor claimed they had learned of a Special Branch operation known as Operation Torsion, which was "designed to incriminate republicans".

However, Mr Shields added that its details did not feature in any of the documents given to them by the DPP.

In a statement, the PSNI said the men were entitled to the presumption of innocence.

The government is determined that confidence will be rebuilt and that devolved government in Northern Ireland will be restored
Northern Ireland Office

"The background to this case is that a paramilitary organisation, namely the Provisional IRA, was actively involved in the systematic gathering of information and targeting of individuals," it said.

"Police investigated that activity and a police operation led to the recovery of thousands of sensitive documents which had been removed from government offices.

"A large number of people were subsequently warned about threats to them."

The PSNI said its investigation into the matter had now concluded.

The Northern Ireland Office said the case was "solely a matter for the prosecuting authorities and not for the NIO".

"It is also a matter of record that it was the actions of paramilitaries in gathering and removing these documents and the damage that was done to political confidences as a result that led to the suspension of the NI Assembly," said a spokesman.

"The government is determined that confidence will be rebuilt and that devolved government in Northern Ireland will be restored. It will continue to work tirelessly to achieve that goal."

Following the arrests, the Reverend Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and the Ulster Unionists, led at that time by then First Minister David Trimble, threatened to collapse the executive with resignations.

The British government then suspended devolution in the province, embarking on direct rule for the last three years.

Stormont conspiracy theories continue
08 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
Police raid Sinn Fein offices
04 Oct 02 |  Northern Ireland
Stormont raid 'not political'
02 Aug 04 |  Northern Ireland

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