Alongside the well publicised statement of Denis Donaldson yesterday, there was one other statement we neglected that is worth noting, from the Northern Ireland Office – “We completely reject any allegation that the police operation in October 2002 was for any reason other than to prevent paramilitary intelligence gathering.” They also point out that “The fact remains a huge number of stolen documents were recovered by the police”. The Irish Times provides a time-line of events from the initial searches in October 2002, and refers to this report, on those police searches, by the Policing OmbudsmanThe time-line of events, from the Irish Times –
2002/October 4th: Police raid Sinn F�in offices in Stormont and a number of other premises in Belfast after a year-long inquiry into an alleged republican spy-ring. Four people are arrested and hundreds of documents seized.
A top security source tells The Irish Times: “Police are very, very confident about the strength of their case.”
October 6th: SF’s chief administrator at Stormont, Denis Donaldson, is charged with holding confidential details about members of the police and British soldiers.
October 7th: UUP leader David Trimble claims the affair is 10 times worse than Watergate and says he cannot foresee the Stormont executive sitting again.
Gerry Adams calls the events “grotesque”, “unbelievable” and “bizarre”.
October 14th: The executive, the North-South Ministerial Council, and the British-Irish Council are suspended. Direct rule from London is reimposed.
November: The BBC quotes a senior security force claiming the break-up of the alleged spy ring was assisted by a police agent “deep within the IRA”.
September 10th: Lawyers for the three defendants in the Stormontgate affair criticise the delay in the case as “inordinate” and threaten legal action if proceedings are not expedited.
February: Charges of possessing confidential or restricted documents are dropped. although the defendants still face up to 10 years in jail for having documents useful to terrorists.
July 19th: The North’s security minister says costs arising from the Stormontgate operation are likely to be around �30 million.
This includes the relocation of 454 prison staff, improved security for others whose details appeared in the documents seized and numerous stress compensation claims.
The UUP says the real cost could be �100 million.
August 1st: An investigation by Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan finds that the Stormont raid was carried out in a proper manner and was not politically motivated, rejecting SF claims to the contrary.
December 8th: The North’s Public Prosecution Service drops the remaining charges against the defendants, saying it is “no longer in the public interest” to pursue them.
The PSNI confirms that its investigation is over, and nobody else is being sought.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says that the affair had caused “a lot of grief for no prosecutions” and adds that it is “all very interesting”.
December 16th: Sinn F�in expels Mr Donaldson, saying he has admitted to being a British agent.
Going back to the Policing Ombudsman report, dated Sunday, 01 August 2004, the relevant sections to highlight are these –
Complaint One – The decision to search an office at Stormont
The Police Ombudsman said she has found no evidence to suggest that the search was politically motivated, or that it was designed to damage Sinn F�in and the peace process. The search of an office was part of normal police process following the search of a home in circumstances such as this. No proper consideration was given by police to the fact that they were searching the buildings of a legislative assembly. This was a significant failing by police.
Investigators established that PSNI officers had earlier that morning carried out searches at a number of locations in the greater Belfast area in relation to alleged serious criminal offences under investigation. As a result of those searches, the PSNI decided that it would also be necessary to search a specific desk used by one particular individual, and the area immediately adjacent to that desk, in the Sinn F�in offices at Parliament Buildings.
That decision to conduct the search at Stormont was made by the Detective Chief Superintendent who was overseeing the whole operation. An application was then made to a Justice of the Peace for the necessary warrant.
Police Ombudsman investigators have viewed the intelligence available to the PSNI that morning and have interviewed several people, including the officer who took the decision to initiate the search and the Justice of the Peace who granted the warrant under schedule 5 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
“On the basis of the intelligence available, I can say that the Detective Chief Superintendent’s decision to seek a warrant authorising a search of a specific desk in the Sinn F�in offices was reasonable, proportionate and legal. The Justice of the Peace who issued the warrant also thought this. We have not uncovered any evidence that the police decision-making was influenced inappropriately by any other officers within the PSNI, by politicians or by any other parties”, said Mrs O’Loan.
Another complaint covered in the report is one that has been repeated, as if it was an established fact, in recent days –
Complaint Two – The Presence of the Media
The Police Ombudsman’s investigators did not uncover any evidence that police alerted the media to the imminent search at Stormont.
While an Ulster Television camera crew was present and filmed the early stages of the search operation, the Police Ombudsman’s Office has found no evidence that the broadcasters had been pre-warned by any police officer. UTV has confirmed that they did not receive advance notice from the police.
All of which brings us back to the decision by the PPS not to proceed with the charges against the three individuals arrested at that time.. and to the issue of whose interest is being served.. and makes the Irish Times’ Gerry Moriarty’s previous comments on this appear ever more prescient –
�There are other conspiracy theories out there but no definitive explanations. It all rather reeks to high heaven, doesn�t it? Lots of questions, no real answers. People will believe whom they want to believe. The Public Prosecution Service talks about its version of the public interest but here it would seem genuinely in the public interest that the service should lift the veil and reveal more.�
Update Since those who will believe what they want to believe will continue to repeat their preferred conspiracy theories regardless, I’ll note the comments from the BBC’s Brian Rowan – from a report on the BBC website that’s since been edited –
Security editor Brian Rowan said he believed Mr Donaldson was not the mole whose information prompted the police�s Special Branch to act in the Stormontgate affair.
�My understanding is that the information that Special Branch had on that alleged IRA intelligence-gathering operation came from another source – not from Denis Donaldson and not from any of the others charged in connection with that case,� he said.