Date is finally set for O'Hagan trial

20 months on remand for New Lodge man

After a delay of 18 months, a date has finally been set for the trial of North Belfast man, John O’Hagan.

John O’Hagan, who was arrested at his New Lodge home in March 2002, is scheduled to stand trial on 1 December.

He is charged with possession of documents that could be useful to terrorists.

John O’Hagan has been held on remand in custody at Maghaberry Prison throughout this entire period, and has been refused bail on five different occasions.

At a hearing in Belfast Magistrate’s Court last Friday, John O’Hagan’s barrister argued that there were two primary issues to be dealt with.
Firstly he requested that a trial date be set, and secondly, that all outstanding disclosure applications be quickly expedited. Defence counsel stated that John O’Hagan’s team have been “assiduously seeking disclosure” from the Crown on a variety of matters.

He said that the defence are “trying to concentrate the Crown’s mind” on the relevant issues. Crown counsel stated that a significant amount of material was now available to the defence, although both sides agreed that a disclosure hearing should take place in two weeks time in order to deal with any outstanding issues.

The magistrate declared that the trial should be completed by Christmas. A number of John O’Hagan’s family and friends were in attendance throughout the hearing, and the New Lodge man looked relaxed throughout.

If John O’Hagan’s trial eventually starts on 1 December, he will have spent exactly 20 months in custody – effectively a three and a half year prison sentence – without having been convicted of any offence.

John O’Hagan’s partner and family expressed relief that his case is finally to proceed.
The treatment of John O’Hagan contrasts with the treatment of North Belfast loyalist Andre Shoukri. Shoukri was arrested last September in possession of a Walther pistol and 30 rounds of ammunition at a PSNI checkpoint in North Belfast.

If Shoukri’s appeal takes place as scheduled tomorrow (Tuesday), then the previously convicted UDA thug will have been arrested, charged, remanded in custody, released on bail, tried, sentenced and making appeal, all within one year from the date of the original offence.

In a highly irregular incident following the hearing, this reporter was singled out by the PSNI officer in charge of John O’Hagan’s case and challenged in the courtroom.

The Andersonstown News terminated the encounter immediately and is currently taking advice on the matter.

Journalist: Jarlath Kearney

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