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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 December 2005, 10:54 GMT
After 'Stormontgate' where's the trust?

By Mark Devenport
BBC Northern Ireland Political Editor

Remember Jo Moore?

She was the Labour adviser who resigned several months after suggesting that 9/11 might have been a good day for the government to bury bad news.

Her name was on Northern Ireland journalists' lips this week when many correspondents, myself included, found ourselves hanging around outside Hillsborough Castle waiting to cover the symbolic first meeting on the island of Ireland between the Queen and Irish President Mary McAleese.

Police raid on Stormont
Police raided Sinn Fein offices at Stormont in October 2002

As we stamped our feet trying to keep warm at Hillsborough, the news was breaking back in Belfast that the so-called "Stormontgate" case had collapsed.

In a surprise hearing, the prosecution decided to drop charges against three men accused in relation to allegations of IRA spying within the government back in October 2002.

The prosecutor told the court that pursuing the case was no longer in the public interest. After three years, they were all found not guilty.

So was this "public interest" a general view that the case could prove damaging to the political process?

Or was it a decision by the prosecution that disclosing sensitive documents could be damaging to national security interests?

The defence had demanded the disclosure of any material related to a 2002 police operation codenamed "Torsion" which targeted the IRA's intelligence gathering effort.

Interviewed by the BBC in June this year about the delay in the Stormontgate case, the Northern Ireland DPP Sir Alasdair Fraser said the prosecution needed to take its time to make the correct decisions in what he described as "a complex case".

He specifically referred to the need to disclose relevant material to the defence.

Since dropping the charges, the Public Prosecution Service won't clarify its thinking on the "public interest", so, for now, we are all left twisting and turning - which incidentally is roughly what the word "torsion" means.

Unionists are pressing Attorney General Lord Goldsmith for details

Republicans argue that the collapse of the case proves their point - that it was built on sand from the start.

They denounce it as an example of "political policing" and call for a new form of "civic policing for a civic society".

Unionists accuse the Public Prosecution Service of maintaining an "arrogant silence".

They say they will pursue the matter via parliament by pressing Attorney General Lord Goldsmith for details.

Conservative Northern Ireland spokesman David Lidington, believes there is a possible precedent back in January 1988, when former Attorney General Sir Patrick Mayhew made a statement to the Commons about the decision not to prosecute police officers as a result of the Stalker/Sampson investigations into shoot-to-kill allegations.

Sir Patrick acknowledged that evidence had been uncovered of police officers perverting the course of justice.

The strange end to the 'Stormontgate' case has left plenty of room for the conspiracy theorists on all sides and little evidence of the trust necessary to move forward
Mark Devenport

But he said that the DPP had decided it would not be proper to bring proceedings after consulting on the public interest and national security.

However, Sir Patrick's statement didn't exactly clear the air.

The then Irish Foreign Minister Gerry Collins claimed the attorney general had given the IRA a new lease of life and the Labour backbencher Ken Livingstone was suspended from parliament for five days after accusing Sir Patrick of being an accomplice to murder.

With that in mind, will the current Attorney General Lord Goldsmith provide a statement or, like the Northern Ireland DPP Sir Alasdair Fraser, will he maintain a stony silence?

The SDLP's Alex Attwood says that if the government and the Public Prosecution Service believe they can bury their heads and wait for the issue to go away they are "seriously wrong".

After noting the latest developments, the Northern Ireland Office said its ministers would work tirelessly to rebuild political confidence.

However, the strange end to the "Stormontgate" case has left plenty of room for the conspiracy theorists on all sides and little evidence of the trust necessary to move forward.




SEE ALSO:
'Spy' trio held 'to save Trimble'
09 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
Stormont conspiracy theories continue
08 Dec 05 |  Northern Ireland
'Stormont spying' case collapses
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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