Ireland On-Line (see links IOL.ie)

Kidnap accused cheered in court
23/02/2004 - 14:14:43

Supporters of four men accused of a thwarted kidnap attempt on a top dissident republican in Belfast applauded as they were led from the dock today.

Relatives and friends packed in to the city’s magistrates’ court as the men faced charges of allegedly beating and abducting Bobby Tohill.

Their arrests have piled huge pressure on Sinn Féin and threatened efforts to rebuild the troubled Northern Ireland peace process.

Amid a heavy police presence all four men, from west Belfast, refused to acknowledge the court as the charges were put to them.

Liam Rainey, (aged 30), of New Barnsley Crescent and Gerard McCrory, (aged 32), from Dermott Hill Road appeared first.

They joked with each other and waved to friends as charges of causing grievous bodily harm and unlawful imprisonment were put to them.

The court also heard they allegedly possessed disposable clothing, pepper spray and two metal cudgels when they were arrested in Belfast city centre on Friday.

Officers swooped on a blue Renault van which contained four men and Mr Tohill soon after he was allegedly seized from a nearby bar.

Even though the Chief Constable Hugh Orde blamed the Provisional IRA for the attempted abduction, charges of membership of the paramilitary organisation against all four were dropped in court.

Harry Fitzsimmons, a 35-year-old painter from St James’ Gardens and Thomas Tolan, (aged 32), of Ballymurphy Parade, were also accused of the same offences when they were brought into court.

Tolan, who had a black eye, and Fitzsimmons refused to stand during the hearing but again waved to their supporters in the public gallery.

Acting Chief Inspector Jeff Smyth told the court all four had made no reply when charged but added he believed he could connect them with the offences.

He confirmed under cross-examination by a defence lawyer that none of the defendants made any statement of admission.

Mr Tohill, a prominent dissident who was once jailed for the murder of a soldier during the 1980s but freed a year later when the evidence of a key witness was dismissed, has made no statement of complaint to police, it also emerged.

All four men were remanded in custody until March 22, but their lawyer indicated they would be applying for High Court bail.

As Fitzsimmons and Tolan were being led away there were shouts of “Keep your head up” and “Good luck lads”, and clapping.

Magistrate Desmond Perry, who had earlier warned he would jail anyone who disrupted proceedings, hit out at the outbursts.

He said to the defence: “If that’s what your clients’ relatives think of as dignified they are very far from the mark.”

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