Senior Garda 'tried to block no terrorism concern statement'

A senior garda attempted to block a statement which claimed he had no concerns about terrorism in the North, the Omagh civil action case heard today.

A senior garda attempted to block a statement which claimed he had no concerns about terrorism in the North, the Omagh civil action case heard today.

An internal M15 memo alleged that Chief Superintendent Dermot Jennings wanted to remove the report because it cast doubt on the credibility of an FBI informer who had infiltrated the Real IRA.

The document maintained if the garda disputed he told David Rupert that he was “only being interested in illegal activity in the Republic of Ireland” it would make him an untrustworthy source.

Rupert’s evidence was paramount in the conviction of alleged RIRA leader Michael McKevitt in August 2003 who was jailed for 20 years for directing terrorism, unrelated to the Omagh bomb attack.

Chief Supt Jennings, promoted to Assistant Commissioner in 2001, was not called to give evidence at McKevitt’s criminal trial, and has not been listed to appear before the landmark civil case.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for McKevitt, told Dublin District Court that Rupert and Mr Jennings had numerous meetings in 1997 and described one as an “abortion of a meeting in a bread van” during which Rupert asked for more money.

Mr O’Higgins then turned to the M15 memo, which he said, in parts, read like something from a cheap James Bond novel.

Typed up in 2001 by a senior member of the British Security Services, it referred to an e-mail sent by Rupert in 1998 which alleged that in 1997 Chief Supt Jennings expressed indifference to terrorism in the North and only being interested in illegal activity in Ireland.

“Jennings was shocked,” the M15 man wrote.

“He expostulated that the statement was untrue and that he would never have said any such thing.

“I responded that the problem was that the allegation was there in the email and we had now to decide what to do about it.

“If the Defence got hold of it and Jennings denied the report’s veracity that would make Rupert an untrustworthy source.

“Jennings urged that the report be removed.

“I said that I felt strongly this was a matter of liaison sensitivity that justified redaction.”

Superintendent Diarmuid O’Sullivan, of the special detective unit, told the court the word “redaction” is a term from America which means blacking out certain items that are sensitive in secret service documents.

Then the M15 officer said there was a pause during the call “presumably while the metaphorical penny dropped in Jennings’ brain.”

Mr O’Sullivan said he would be shocked if the senior officer had no concerns as stated “considering he has spend most of his service endeavouring to prevent terrorism in Northern Ireland.”

He maintained that Mr Jennings had made a statement for the investigation team which has been given to McKevitt’s defence.

“We did everything in our power to disclose every aspect of the case and investigation including aspects that weren’t favourable to the prosecution in an effort to afford Mr McKevitt every possibility of properly defending himself,” he added.

For almost four hours on day 21 of the unprecedented case, Mr O’Sullivan was grilled over the credibility and trustworthiness of the FBI agent.

“Untrustworthiness as a person and untrustworthiness in relation to the facts he stated in his statements that were collaborated at a later stage are two different things,” said the officer.

The £14m (€17m) civil action by six families is against five men they believe are responsible for the RIRA blast in August 1998 which killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.

McKevitt, Liam Campbell, said to be his number two, Colm Murphy, Seamus McKenna and Seamus Daly all deny any involvement in the bomb attack.

The groundbreaking court case is the first time the victims of terrorism are confronting the alleged perpetrators and the first time evidence from a Northern Ireland case has been heard in the Republic.

Although more than 50 gardaí were summonsed to give evidence in Dublin, just seven out of first 29 officers listed for this week have taken to the witness box.

Barristers, who agreed that statements from four gardai could be read in to the case back in Belfast, are expected to agree in Belfast Crown Court tomorrow a running order, and possible reduction in witnesses, when the case returns to the District Court on May 27.

The legal teams are also expected to ask District Court Judge Conal Gibbons and Mr Justice Morgan, who has presided over the case in Belfast Crown Court but had no judicial powers in Dublin, for an extension in the Republic.

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