“He was just following orders…”

The Irish News carries comments by dissenting republican Bobby Tohill ahead of the sentencing of one of the “four-man IRA gang” who had pleaded guilty to Tohill’s attempted abduction in 2004 but had jumped bail before being sentenced in May 2006. Two of the four men were re-arrested and sentenced in February 2007. Another, Henry Joseph [Harry] Fitzsimmons, was recently re-arrested and handed over by the Irish authorities. From the Irish News report.

Tohill was taken to hospital and required 100 stitches to his wounds but from the outset refused to cooperate with police. Speaking to The Irish News this week he said: “Six years have passed and in that time I have become close friends with all the men, including Harry [Fitzsimmons]. “They were sent to abduct me by higher powers and have since all apologised. Harry has a wife and children and I don’t want to see him jailed. “I’m the person who’s supposed to be the victim here and I’m going to go to court to ask the judge to show leniency. He was just following orders and things have changed a lot politically in the last six years so I can’t see what would be gained by sending him to jail.”

Well, the court might show leniency, despite the bail-jumping, if he revealed who the ‘higher power’ was who gave the order. Then there’s the matter of the still unlawfully at large Liam Rainey of whom the police have still not released a likeness or even a basic description…From the 1st Independent Monitoring Commission report

5. INCIDENT IN BELFAST ON 20 FEBRUARY 2004

5.1 We have examined a considerable number of individual incidents, but we have paid particular attention to the incident which took place in Belfast on 20 February 2004. This is for a number of reasons. Its timing was highly significant and it has been very widely seen as having a major impact on events in Northern Ireland. By its method it was intrinsically serious, though we recognise that its direct consequences were less severe than all too many other incidents. Moreover, both Governments have asked us specifically to examine the incident in the context of our first report.

5.2 The facts of the incident can be stated very briefly. At about 17.45 on 20 February 2004 four masked men entered a bar called Kelly’s Cellars in Bank Street, Belfast. They were all dressed in white forensic suits , balaclavas and surgical gloves. The four men very severely beat Robert Tohill who was in the bar. They then dragged him from the bar to the vehicle in which they had arrived and had parked nearby. They forced him into the vehicle and the five left in it, one of their number driving.

5.3 A member of the public who had seen the incident had meanwhile telephoned the police, and there happened to be a PSNI patrol vehicle in the vicinity. The two officers in this vehicle intercepted the vehicle containing Robert Tohill and arrested four men. The names of those arrested are Harry Fitzsimmons, Gerard McCrory, Liam Rainey and Thomas Tolan.

5.4 The four arrested men were subsequently remanded in custody on charges of causing grievous bodily harm, unlawful imprisonment and the possession of items likely to be of use to terrorists. Charges of membership of a proscribed organisation were withdrawn at first remand.

5.5 The cases of the arrested people are sub judice. In no circumstances should they be prejudiced. Article 13 of the International Agreement specifically requires the Commission to do nothing which would either prejudice a legal case or place anybody’s safety at risk. We are therefore heavily constrained in what we may say. We can however, address two key questions: was this incident the work of a paramilitary organisation and if it was, which one?

5.6 We have received information from a number of official and unofficial sources. We have carefully reviewed all of this material. We are conscious that we are not bound by the strict rules of evidence and that the material has not been subject to the testing one could expect in a criminal trial. We do however believe this material, taken as a whole, indicates that the operation was one planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA.

That detail is for the benefit of new PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott. From the Irish News report

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said that while he was not aware of the details of the case, there was no amnesty for ‘on the runs’.

“People who are wanted remain wanted,” he said.

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