Sunday Business Post

**F***ing hell--do you think the OBVIOUS might at last become f***ing OBVIOUS???


25/07/04 00:00
By Paul T Colgan

The North's Police Ombudsman is to report in the coming weeks on the PSNI `spy-ring' raids at Stormont that led to the collapse of the political institutions two years ago, The Sunday Business Post has learned.
Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan has been looking at a raft of complaints made against the PSNI.

Among them was that the raids were politically motivated, that excessive police power was used and that Sinn Fein members were assaulted by PSNI officers.

Republicans claimed that the raids were a ``dirty-tricks'' operation by the PSNI Special Branch and designed to destroy the then power-sharing government. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble described the alleged republican spy-ring as ``ten times worse than Watergate''.

If O'Loan's findings back-up claims that the raids were part of a political strategy to collapse the power-sharing executive, they will likely cause difficulties ahead of September's moves to restore the Northern Assembly.

The Stormont raid involved scores of heavily armed PSNI officers descending on Sinn Fein's private offices and plunged the North's political process into chaos.

While the raid only netted two computer discs, which were later returned to the party, it was claimed that republicans had been spying on the British government and unionists.

It was later revealed that the then Northern secretary John Reid had been aware of claims that an IRA spy-ring had been in operation in Castle Buildings for several months before the raids. The PSNI operation came only days after Trimble said he would collapse the institutions if the IRA failed to disband.

PSNI chief constable Hugh Orde later apologised for the nature of the raids.

Senior special branch officer Bill Lowry resigned his post following a row which is thought to have stemmed from the high-profile operation.

Sinn Fein's head of administration, Denis Donaldson, his son-in-law, Ciaran Kearney, and William Mackessy, a former Stormont porter face charges relating to the raids.

While charges relating to the possession of confidential Northern Ireland Office (NIO) document s were dropped in February, the three men are still charged with handling documents ``likely to be of use to terrorists''.

A PSNI detective inspector admitted in court that Kearney's fingerprints were only found on three documents, which did not possess information that would merit a charge.

The eventual cost of the incident to the British taxpayer is expected to be about £30 million.

The Northern Ireland Office said 454 prison staff had to be re-housed in the wake of the discovery of the alleged spy-ring.

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