Northern Ireland news

Jamie Bryson to call Jim Wells as defence witness in Nama conspiracy case

Jamie Bryson arrives at Belfast Magistrates Court.Picture by Hugh Russell 
David Young, PA

A loyalist activist is calling a DUP politician as a defence witnesses in his bid to halt a prosecution prompted by a complaint by another senior party figure.

Jamie Bryson (30) told a district judge he would call Jim Wells as a witness in the case linked to the controversial Nama property deal, and would also be asking the court to summons the complainant, DUP peer Lord Morrow.

Bryson, who is representing himself, is being prosecuted alongside former Sinn Féin MLA Daithi McKay (37) and republican activist Thomas O'Hara, (35) for allegedly conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office.

The charges relate to Bryson's 2015 appearance before a Stormont committee, chaired by McKay, which was investigating the sale of the National Asset Management Agency's Northern Ireland assets to a US investment fund.

Bryson, wearing a suit and Union flag tie, was the only one of the three defendants in Belfast Magistrates' Court today as the case came before a judge for the first time.

The loyalist, from Rosepark, Donaghadee, told judge Fiona Bagnall that he wanted several witnesses called for the committal hearing, when the court decides whether there is sufficient evidence to take the case to trial.

Bryson, who was accompanied to court by several loyalist supporters, said he wished to call nine prosecution witnesses.

"And one defence witness," he added. "Mr Jim Wells."

Mr Wells is a DUP assembly member who had the whip withdrawn in 2018 after he publicly criticised the party leadership.

Bryson, who stood beside the dock after being refused permission to address the court from legal benches, told the judge he would also seek to make an application to summons Lord Morrow, noting that the peer was not listed among the prosecution witnesses.

The judge told him he did not need to make the application immediately and it could wait to a later date in the legal proceedings.

A solicitor representing O'Hara, from Lisnahunshin Road, Cullybackey, told the court he would have to speak to his client before confirming whether he objected to witnesses being called during the committal proceedings.

A criminal probe was launched after the publication of leaked Twitter messages between Bryson, McKay and the account of O'Hara, who at the time was a Sinn Féin activist in north Antrim.

McKay, from Loughan Road, Dunnamanagh, quit as an MLA within hours of the Twitter messages being published in August 2016.

The Stormont Finance Committee inquiry was set up in 2015 amid political controversy over the multimillion-pound sale of Nama's property portfolio north of the border.

Nama, the so-called bad bank created by the Dublin government to deal with the toxic loans of bailed-out lenders during the economic crash, sold its 800 Northern Ireland-linked properties to investment fund Cerberus for £1.2 billion.

Giving evidence, Bryson used assembly privilege to name former DUP leader Peter Robinson as a beneficiary of the sale.

The then first minister has strongly rejected any suggestion he benefited from the deal. All other parties involved in the transaction have also denied wrongdoing.

During the short court hearing today, Bryson highlighted imminent legislation designed to streamline committal hearings in Northern Ireland. He expressed concern that may prevent him calling witnesses.

Judge Bagnall told him the law change had not come into effect.

"You don't need to worry about what's still to be laid before the assembly," she said. "It's not being used by the courts at this stage."

The judge adjourned the case for two weeks - until February 11 - when a date will be set for the committal hearing.

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Northern Ireland news