Northern Ireland news

MI5 agent gives softly spoken evidence at high-profile Colin Duffy case

Colin Duffy is among three men standing trial

IT was a slow start to a high-profile case that has been dragging through the courts since 2013.

On trial are alleged 'New IRA' members Colin Duffy (51), Henry Fitzsimons (50) and 57-year-old Alex McCrory.

Covert recordings of the three men were allegedly made by an MI5 operative over five years ago, and the intelligence officer gave evidence yesterday for the first time.

Known only as 9281, he was shielded from the public gallery and the three defendants by a blue curtain.

A number of quite serious-looking blokes in suits dotted around the court provided front of house security - clearly no chances were being taken.

Alex McCrory

In an English accent, so softly spoken that he had to be asked to speak up on several occasions, he was quizzed one-by-one by defence counsel for the accused.

The prosecution claims that the covert recordings have the men discussing a failed attempt to kill police.

The charges are based on audio recordings captured in a public park in Lurgan in December 2013.

While the audio was captured under codename 'Contraction', a video of the scene codenamed 'Succinctness' was also made, as was a second video referred to as 'Idealistic'.

Henry Fitzsimons

While all this made it sound very James Bond, it was clear from the answers provided by 9281 that much of his work involved the mundane task of downloading various files onto USB sticks and placing them in evidence bags.

The defence are trying to have the five-and-a-half year-old charges thrown out, arguing about the 'providence and handling' of the recordings before they reached experts for examination.

This meant 9281 was put on the spot a number of times, not least over how many devices had been deployed, when they were retrieved and how they were then stored and what procedures were used.

He stumbled a few times, with long pauses before answering as if the right words suddenly occurred to him. On a number of occasions he refused to give procedural details, saying "I am not sure I can answer that on the grounds of national security".

While reluctantly answering most questions about the audio recordings, he dodged almost every question about the video, saying he did not want to reveal the equipment's "capability".

A handful of family and friends of the accused gathered in the public gallery, but if they were expecting edge-of-their-seat testimony they were disappointed.

This is a long, drawn-out and technical process, the wheels of justice in this high-profile case turning at a snail's pace.

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