Coronavirus

Arrest of republican linked to surveillance

Gavin Booth,Phoenix Law Picture by Hugh Russell.

LAWYERS acting for a Belfast man who was returned to prison after his licence was revoked by the secretary of state have claimed he is being denied access to legal representation.

Kieran ‘Zack’ Smyth was arrested last Friday and returned to prison to serve the remainder of a 12-year jail term for robbery.

Peter Corrigan of Phoenix Law said his client had not been returned to prison in relation to threats to members of Sinn Féin, and that they would be fighting his detention robustly.

“My client totally refutes that he made threats against Michelle O’Neill and Gerry Kelly,” he said.

“The allegations are unfounded and baseless.

“The deprivation of someone’s liberty without any admissible relevant evidence undermines one of the fundamental cornerstones of the rule of law.”

The 60-year-old from the Short Strand was released from prison last year after serving half of his sentence for a violent robbery against an elderly couple and their son.

A former IRA blanket man, he was convicted of the 2013 robbery during which the couple and their son were terrorised by three masked men claiming to be loyalist paramilitaries.

The couple aged 76 and 82 were threatened at gunpoint and tied up in the kitchen of their home at a rural location between Ballynahinch and Carryduff.

Despite the offence not being political, Smyth served his time in Roe House, the separated wing of Maghaberry prison with dissident republican prisoners.

He is also a member of Saoradh, the political organisation linked to the New IRA. It is believed he may have been under surveillance by the intelligence services for some time prior to his arrest.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis all visitors and face-to-face legal visits have been cancelled in Northern Ireland’s three prison facilities.

Gavin Booth of Phoenix Law said that despite Skype facilities being available in other parts of Maghaberry prison, those housed in Roe House are being denied access for either legal visits or to keep in touch with vulnerable family members.

“Given that Skype is permitted for some prisoners, the refusal to permit this for all prisoners would require justification to ensure that this is necessary and proportionate.

“Furthermore, the decision has the consequence of ensuring that no separated prisoner can use Skype facilities to maintain family contact.”

The prison service is also refusing to allow prisoners to phone solicitors on their mobile phones.

With many solicitors no longer working in an office setting due to Covid-19, Mr Booth said this is denying prisoners access to adequate legal representation.

Mr Booth said prison rules state “reasonable facilities” should be allowed for the legal adviser of a prisoner who is party to legal proceedings.

“The provision of access to video-link/Skype facilities and the use of solicitors’ mobile telephone numbers would assist Mr Smyth in obtaining legal advice during the effective shutdown of the prison during the Covid-19 outbreak,” he said.

“This step is entirely reasonable where no other option is now available.”

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