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The strange case of the Belfast 5
Plus the dissident Republican they’re trying to frame. and whatever happened to Kevin Boyle?
Eamonn McCann, 08 Sep 2004
Maybe Catherine Ross, Colette Dornan, Darren Malone, Padraig O’Connor and Tomas Gorman would have been better advised to bomb a restaurant.
The five were among a group of around 300 who staged a “die-in” on the road outside Belfast City Hall on April 8th last year, protesting against the war on Iraq.
On August 12th, they made their 11th appearace at Belfast Magistrates’ Court to answer charges arising. The allegations included “malicious sitting.”
A few hours before the April 8th protest, US bombs had smashed into a restaurant in a suburb of Baghdad. Intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein would be settling down to dinner there at the time proved as reliable as the rest of the intelligence Bush and Blair used to justify war. Iraqbodycount estimates that 19 innocent diners and restaurant workers were crushed to pulp, or blown to bits.
The men behind the restaurant bombing were, at the time, in conference a few miles down the road from Belfast, at Hillsborough Castle, planning the post-war governance of Iraq. It was at Hillsborough that Blair gave way to Bush and agreed that the “coalition”, not the UN, would run the show once the occupation was secured. The outcome of this deal is now to be seen nightly on television, in the pictures from Falluja, Najaf, Nassiriya, Sadr City, etc.
Ross, Dornan, Malone, O’Connor and Gorman weren’t the only Northerners intervening in Iraqi affairs on April 8th 2003. As PSNI officers were wading into the City Hall protestors, David Trimble, Gerry Adams, Mark Durkan, Monica McWilliams and others were presenting their passes to the security guards at Hillsborough, as they trooped in, to provide Bush with an opportunity to project himself as a peace-maker. The only journalist present, Peter Stothard, described the scene: “The human chess pieces arrive, stand in a horse-shoe shape, and are severally and individually lectured.”
It was this tableau which enabled the Belfast Telegraph to carry a front-page April 8th splash describing the Hillsborough war council as a “Peace Summit.”
More than a year later, it’s those who protested for peace, rather than those who facilitated war, who find themselves in the dock for, inter alia, “malicious sitting.”
It strikes me that the phrase might more accurately be applied to sitting around a table pin-pointing restaurants to be bombed, than sitting on a roadway pleading for the bombing to stop. But what made the sitting malicious in the minds of the magistracy was, apparently, that the five had smeared raspberry jam on the roadway to simulate blood. A messy business, no doubt. But hardly as messy as the gobbets of flesh which will have plopped onto roadways around the Baghdad restaurant a few hours earlier.
The five were bound over – the system which sent out the bombers warning the campaigners-against-violence to desist from breaching the peace.
I am frequently told that it’s counter-productive to bring revolutionary politics into anti-war discourse. But what the case of the City Hall Five surely shows is...
But let’s turn away for a moment and first consider the case of Derryman, Seamus Doherty. If he weren’t a “dissident” Republican, he’d be front-page news.
Doherty is in Maghaberry Prison, awaiting trial for possession of explosives. The charge refers to an abortive Real IRA bomb attack near Newry, in September 2002. Charges against Martin Brogan and Mark Carroll, both from Castlewellan – they’d been arrested about a mile from where the bomb was intercepted on the Omeath Road – were dropped last November. This followed discovery of documents suggesting that forensic evidence may have been tampered with and attempts made to suborn scientists.
Charges against a man arrested on suspicion of being the driver of the bomb vehicle had also been dropped without explanation at an earlier stage. This man, Kevin Byrne, has since disappeared.
The case against Brogan and Carroll fell apart when a solicitor’s clerk, examining potential evidence at the North’s Forensic Science Laboratory (FSNI) at Carrickfergus, discovered an envelope marked “do not open” in the case file, numbered 4981/02. Opening it, Adrian Carlin found a typed letter signed by senior forensic scientist, Dr. Gerry Murray, describing a meeting with PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Derek Williamson “to discuss my statement in relation to case no. 4981/02.” Williamson, the letter recorded, “requested that I prepare a modified statement, omitting a number of sections from the original statement. He provided me with a copy of my original statement with the relevant sections highlighted.”
The effect of the suggested deletions would have been to remove all reference to traces of explosives found on Byrne’s trousers, shirt, jacket, right hand and finger nails. (Two months ago, Doherty’s lawyers also discovered that Byrne’s DNA had been found on a bomb part and on the steering wheel, gearstick, handbrake and ignition key of the abandoned bomb car.)
The solicitor’s clerk, Carlin, also discovered, at the Carrickfergus laboratory, a memo from senior forensic officer Gordon McMillan to all FSNI staff claiming that: “On 25 Nov. I sent a message to business managers informing them that an army search organisation had been involved in the examination of items in relation to case 4981/02, that had not yet been delivered to the laboratory. This examination involved them opening bags in the exhibits room of Newry Police Station and rubbing a gloved hand over the surfaces of the contents, in this case items of clothing.” The clothing belonged to Brogan and Carroll.
Doherty’s supporters say that the security forces were trying to contaminate or manipulate the forensic evidence so as to make a case against Brogan and Carroll, while undermining the case against Byrne, who, they allege, was a PSNI Special Branch informer and agent provocateur.
The case against Doherty is based on DNA traces allegedly detected on the Omeath Road bomb. Doherty had been arrested in Derry on an unrelated matter six weeks prior to the discovery of the bomb and swabs taken for forensic examination. He denies ever having handled a bomb. His lawyers have claimed from the outset that the DNA on the bomb had been planted – a suggestion which, in light of subsequent developments, can hardly be dismissed as implausible.
All these circumstances will be familiar to anyone involved 25 years ago in the campaign for the release of the Birmingham Six. Although it is difficult now to find an Irish Nationalist who was around at the time who doesn’t claim to have been active on behalf of the Six from the beginning, in fact it took years for British liberal lawyers and socialists to coax, or shame, respectable Irish elements into taking an interest.
There was a number of reasons. Some, naively, found it difficult to believe that the State would so blatantly conspire to falsify evidence. Some were concerned that publicly espousing the cause of the Six would give the appearance of tacitly approving the bombing in which 19 innocent drinkers and bar staff had been crushed to pulp or blown to bits. After all, the Six were, or seemed to be, politically sympathetic to the organisation behind the bombs. The Provos then were anathema. Now the “dissidents” are anathema, to the Provos as to other respectable Irish.
Go figure. What I figure is that what the cases of the City Hall Five and Seamus Doherty show is that if we don’t turn the world upside down we’ll never set it on its feet.