AN MI5 agent has denied claims he deliberately destroyed evidence in the trial of three men arising from a dissident republican gun attack on police.
And the policies and procedures of MI5 were designed to “shield’’ and “insulate’’ the conduct of Security Service operatives from public scrutiny, it was claimed in court on Wednesday.
The allegation was made by a senior defence QC during the second day of cross examination of an MI5 witness in the trial of three men accused of charges linked to dissident republican activity.
Colin Duffy (51), Henry Fitzsimons (50) and 57-year-old Alex McCrory, whose addresses can’t be given at this time, deny preparing and directing terrorism, and membership or professing to be members of the IRA.
Fitzsimons and McCrory are also charged with and deny attempting to murder police in the convoy, and possessing two AK47 assault rifles and ammunition used in the north Belfast gun attack.
A three vehicle police convoy came under attack from AK47 assault rifles as they travelled along the Crumlin Road in north Belfast on December 5, 2013.
Belfast Crown Court had previously heard that in the wake of the attack the security forces mounted covert surveillance operations in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Operation Contraction, the court was told, related to covert audio recordings in Demesne Park while Operation Succinctness related to a video of the scene.
A third operation, codenamed ‘Idealistic,’ related to a second video at the entrance of Forest Glade in the town.
The MI5 technical operative - who was given the cipher (PIN) 9281 - took the witness stand for a second day, screened from the public and press by a blue curtain and guarded over by an armed plain clothed police officer.
He was only visible to lawyers for the defence and prosecution and trial judge, Mr Justice O’Hara, who was sitting alone without a jury in the Diplock style trial.
The court had previously heard that 9281 had deployed, retrieved and downloaded the audio recording onto MI5’s mainframe computer system.
During cross examination, a defence QC for Alex McCrory asked 9281: “What are your qualifications for this post?’’
9281 replied from behind the curtain: “My Lord, I am not sure I can answer that question on the grounds of national security.’’
Probed further about his expertise, the witness said that his qualifications, although not at degree level, related to “technical areas’’and would involve “cyber security’’.
Asked did he keep a notebook or any record of “this operation that could be used as evidence in court’’, 9281 replied: “No’’.
He was further asked if it was a coincidence that other MI5 officers in the case did not use notebooks in the course of the undercover operation.
The witness answered: “I can’t comment for other officers. I didn’t use one.’’
The defence QC put it to the witness: “Can I suggest to you that that it is the policy and procedure of the Security Services to shield your conduct from the scrutiny of this court.’’
The witness replied: “I can’t comment on the policies and procedures.”
The lawyer continued: “These policies and procedures are designed to insulate your conduct from scrutiny by this court and that you deliberately destroyed evidence in this case.’’
9281 replied: “I didn’t destroy any evidence in this case.’’
During earlier cross examination by a defence QC for Duffy, the MI5 agent confirmed to the court that he finished downloading audio material from a USB stick from the covert listening devices at 6.30am on December 8, 2013.
Asked by counsel at what time he started to download the material, 9281 replied: “I can’t answer that on the grounds of national security.’’
At this point Mr Justice O’Hara interjected, saying to the witness that “you can tell us that you finished at 06.30 am but you can’t tell us when you finished on the grounds of national security.’’
The witness agreed, saying that was for a number of reasons which included the “timing of the deployment’’ of the audio devices.
The defence lawyer put it to 9281 that it appeared from a computerised log print out of December 8, 2013, that someone else other than the witness was downlowding the same audio material between 4.40am and 5.52am before a virus alert went live at 5.57am.
The witness answered: “My Lord, the device never left my possession,’’ adding that if they were not in his possession they would have been “stored in my secure locker’’.