Men secretly recorded by MI5 admit assaulting a suspected drug dealer
TWO men secretly recorded by MI5 as a suspected drug dealer was assaulted and quizzed by dissidents have been handed prison sentences - but walked free from court due to time served on remand.
Daniel Joseph Anthony McClean (52), from Lagmore Gardens in Dunmurry, and 42-year-old Robert Warnock O'Neill (42), of Bingnian Drive in west Belfast, admitted assaulting an unknown man and collecting information useful to terrorists on suspected drug dealers.
Charges of IRA membership were 'left on the books', the court heard.
O'Neill was handed a sentence of two years and eight months. McClean was sentenced to two years.
Both sentences were divided equally between custody and licence, meaning that due to time served both men were not returned to prison.
The assault was captured on a secret MI5 recording of a house in Dunmurry's Aspen Walk on February 6, 2014.
Although the suspected dealer is heard being slapped once, it was accepted there was no evidence to suggest the two men administered it.
During the 41-minute recording, McClean was identified as playing an aggressive role, threatening: "If you tell anybody, I will come through your front door".
O'Neill was heard complaining of dissident republicans getting a bad name, adding "we are not selling drugs".
In her sentencing, Judge Patricia Smyth said there was no evidence that anyone was harmed as a consequence of the information collected, adding: "Much of this information was probably already known to these people."
The pair had originally gone on trial last November along with two others, Mark Gerard Heaney (52) of Lagmore Glen in Dunmurry and 62-year-old Kevin O'Neill from Coolnasilla Park South in Andersonstown.
During the non-jury Diplock trial, the court heard that a group of men were bugged by MI5 agents as they allegedly discussed dissident IRA tactics.
MI5 agents, screened from the court, told of planting and retrieving the bugs but claimed it could 'damage national security' if more were said.
The trial came to an abrupt end earlier this month with McClean and O'Neill's guilty pleas, after which no further evidence was offered against their former co-accused.
Heaney and Kevin O'Neill were acquitted of IRA membership and separate charges relating to the possession of firearms, both with intent and under suspicious circumstances.
Speaking afterwards, PSNI Detective Inspector David Lowans said police had "worked tirelessly to bring this case before the courts".
"Mr O'Neill and Mr McLean were arrested as part of an operation during which evidence was gathered that they assaulted a man in an attempt to intimidate him into divulging the names and address of people dealing drugs in the area, as well as what types of drugs," he said.
"They hit him and made a number of threats to 'blow off his legs with a shotgun' if he did not provide this information or if he told any lies.
"They also tell him they have a shotgun.
"At one point Mr McClean warns that he will 'take his legs off tonight and that he wouldn't think twice about putting him in a body bag or an open or a closed coffin', while Mr O'Neill threatens that the victim is 'a hair trigger from getting your legs amputated clean off'."
He added: "There is no place in modern society for this violence and threats of violence".