By Eoin Reynolds
Two men have been found not guilty of IRA membership following a Special Criminal Court trial in which an FBI agent uncovered a Dublin-based plot to buy a grenade and Semtex online.
Judges at the non-jury court convicted a third accused, 45-year-old Jonathan Hawthorn of Ballintyre Downs, Ballinteer, Dublin, who was found guilty of membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA on September 14, 2016.
Hawthorn was photographed receiving the mock-up delivery designed by gardaí to look like a grenade and explosives. He also had the materials on him in a sports bag when arrested a short time later.
His co-accused James Geraghty (61) of Dolphin House in Dolphin’s Barn, and Donal O'Ceallaigh (33) with an address on Beach Road, Sandymount walked free from court. There were shouts of "tiocfaidh ár lá" from supporters as Hawthorn was led away by prison officers. He will be sentenced next October.
Passing verdict, Justice Isobel Kennedy presiding with Judge Gerard Griffin and Judge Gerard Haughton said the prosecution relied on the evidence of Chief Superintendent Tom Maguire who said that he believes all three men were members of the IRA on September 14, 2016. He claimed privilege over the material relied on in coming to that conclusion.
The judges noted that the prosecution had asked the court to draw inferences from the accused men refusing to answer certain questions or telling lies during interviews following arrest. In relation to James Geraghty, Justice Kennedy said he answered all questions put to him and there was no evidence that he lied. Justice Kennedy said that Mr O'Ceallaigh refused to answer certain questions but as he had answered those questions in a previous interview, they could not draw any adverse inference.
The judges found that Jonathan Hawthorn had refused to answer material questions about his possession of the fake explosives and that this was because his answers would not stand up to scrutiny. The "only inference" to be drawn, Justice Kennedy said, was that he is a member of an unlawful organisation.
There was not, according to Justice Kennedy, any evidence to support the belief of the chief superintendent in relation to Mr Geraghty or Mr O'Ceallaigh and the legislation requires supporting evidence for a conviction.
Jonathan Hawthorn's refusal to answer questions and his actions in receiving the delivery and having the items on him supported the garda's evidence.
During the trial the court heard that an undercover FBI agent was monitoring the dark-web, an area of the internet sometimes used to buy and sell illegal materials including explosives. Through AlphaBay, a market place where people trade on the dark-web in exchange for Bitcoin, the FBI agent was contacted by a user named Meat Cleaver. On September 3, 2016 Meat Cleaver ordered Semtex, an F-1 Soviet fragmentation grenade, a handgun and 100 rounds of ammunition. It was to be delivered to a "Mr Gerathy" at the accused man James Geraghty's address in Dolphin House.
The agent told Meat Cleaver that the weapons would be disguised as Play Doh and made to look like a gift.
Gardaí then set up a fake DHL delivery of items made to look like what was ordered, complete with the gift wrapping and Play Doh. Mr Greene told the court that gardai monitored the delivery, carried out on the morning of September 14, 2016. An undercover member of the National Surveillance Unit photographed Jonathan Hawthorn receiving the package on a balcony at Dolphin House and signing for it using Mr Geraghty's name.
He was arrested later that morning at St James's Hospital with a bag containing the dummy grenade and fake Semtex.