Northern Ireland news

Lurgan republican Colin Duffy among men recorded discussing failed attempt to murder police, court told

(left to right) Colin Duffy, Henry Fitzsimons and Alex McCrory 

AN undercover MI5 agent has told a court how security services were able to secretly record and video three men allegedly discussing a failed attempt to murder police as well as tactics of dissident republicans.

However, even before he was sworn in at Belfast Crown Court yesterday, a lawyer for the trio - Colin Duffy (51), Henry Fitzsimons (50) and 57-year-old Alex McCrory - said they intended to challenge the audio evidence allegedly obtained.

The barrister told trial judge Mr Justice O'Hara, sitting without a jury in the 'Diplock' case, that they would be seeking to exclude the three audio exhibits which were "at the core of the prosecution case".

The three men face charges connected to a gun attack on a police convoy in the Crumlin Road area of north Belfast in December 2013.

Read More: Slow start to high-profile case as MI5 operative gives evidence 

All three deny preparing and directing terrorism and being in the IRA.

Mr Fitzsimons and Mr McCrory also deny attempting to murder police and possession of two AK47 assault rifles and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

The covert recordings captured in a public park in Lurgan, known as Demesne Park and owned and operated by Craigavon Council, were made in December 2013 under the codename 'Contraction'.

A video of the scene codenamed 'Succinctness' was also made, as was a second video at the entrance of the Forest Glade area which was designated "Idealistic".

Mr Justice O'Hara was told that the defence had put the prosecution "on notice" in relation to the integrity of the audio recordings as there were allegedly question marks surrounding their providence and handling before they reached experts for examination.

A prosecution lawyer also revealed that a separate undercover operation was carried out in Santa Ponza with the assistance of Spanish authorities.

After giving evidence screened from the main body of the court by a blue curtain, guarded by a plain-clothed policeman, the M15 technical officer with the Personal Identification Number 9281 refused to give any details surrounding the actual workings of the various audio and, in particular, video devices.

He repeatedly told counsel: "I am not sure I can answer that on national security grounds."

At one stage the lawyer put it to the officer: "If I asked you any question on the functionality or capability of any of these devices, will the answer be the same?"

"Yes, my lord," he replied.

Questioned about his statement of evidence concerning the deployment and retrieval of the various devices, he accepted that "each statement was prepared by someone else and I adopted it as mine".

In one it was recorded that he had installed devices and that maintenance was carried out on them, and that a further device was later installed.

Initially the officer said the reference to 'maintenance' meant his maintaining the various correct protocols with regard to the deployment of the audio devices.

When pressed he appeared to accept that he had carried out maintenance and installed a further device, only later to say that he had a total of 15 devices and all were deployed and later recovered.

This was based on the serial numbers given to the various 15 devices, which although redacted, were recorded.

The officer said the difference was because of the use of his "terminology - phraseology" in what was in the various statements, and that the meaning of maintenance was the removal of the devices.

PIN 9281 said recordings from the various devices were downloaded to three USB flash drives, designated blue, green and purple by the defence. However, it later transpired that the purple USB, which could have been used as 'master', has since disappeared.

The court also heard that it was accepted by both the prosecution and defence that two viruses had been found on two separate copies of the blue USB device.

At least one the viruses 'could have opened the door' to the recordings to be altered or changed.

It has also transpired that the computer used to download onto the USB devices has since been 'decommissioned'.

Asked later by Mr Justice O'Hara what would have been wrong with setting out what he had done in a notebook, the officer replied that he "wrote it down on a piece of paper'".

The trial continues today when the officer will face further cross-examination by defence lawyers.

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