“The judge, Lord Justice Coghlin, then held a brief private hearing with lawyers representing the Northern Ireland Office”

Gerry McGeough, last seen in April confronting Gerry Adams, was in court today in the latest stage of his trial on a charge of attempted murder dating back to 1981.  McGeough was arrested as he left the count centre after his unsuccesssful run in the 2007 Assembly election.  His legal team have made an abuse of process application.

UTV notes the charges

McGeough, from the Carrycastle Road, Gortmerron Dungannon, is accused of attempting to murder former UDR soldier Samuel Brush, possessing two Colt revolvers used in the atack on June 13 1981 and two counts of being a member of the IRA on dates between January 1975 and June 1981.

His co-accused, 47-year-old Vincent McAnespie, from Aghabo Close in Aughnacloy, denies a charge of impeding the apprehension of McGeough by hiding the pistols.

We previously learned that a charge of attempted murder against McAnespie, a Sinn Féin party member and husband of a Sinn Féin Councillor, was dropped following the withdrawal of two witness statements.

[Prosecuting lawyer, David Reid] said two witness were recently revisited by police and made statements but within two days other people came to see them on four separate occasions and, while no open threat was made, they were left in no doubt that they were to withdraw their statements.

“The threat was implied and the elderly witnesses were left in a very frightened state,” Mr Reid said.

“Later one of them was out shopping and was called a traitor.”

UTV notes that McGeough told the court

…that in July 2000, Sinn Fein politician Gerry Kelly “conveyed to me that I was free to return to Northern Ireland without fear of being arrested“.

He told the court the alleged conversation came in circumstances where he was due to stand for selection process to decide if he would stand as a Sinn Fein candidate in the upcoming General Election.

And that

McGeough said he was visited by two RUC officers in a German prison in 1991 and thought extradition proceedings would be forthcoming but nothing happened and added that after he spoke with Mr Kelly, “I wondered at time if such a thing would happen”.

Under cross examination from a prosecution lawyer McGeough conceded that he did not receive assurance from “any prosecuting authority or member of the government” that he would not face prosecution.

The lawyer put it to McGeough that in a letter from the NIO in January 2003, “it as made clear that you were liable to prosecution and arrest should you be in the jurisdiction” but McGeough claimed that was “never conveyed to me”.

When I was given the assurances by Mr Kelly I was of the opinion that this matter had been resolved and in the context of the time, everyone was speaking about meeting in resolution of the conflict and former ‘enemies’ were sitting around the table,” claimed McGeough.

The BBC report an interesting addition to the court proceedings

The defence then called William ‘Plum’ Smyth, a former chairman of the Progressive Unionist Party, who took part in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The party represented the views of the UVF, and discussed issues relating to loyalist prisoners.

He told the court that former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, had given verbal assurances to loyalists and republicans during those discussions about the fate of anyone wanted for questioning about conflict related offences.

William Smyth said this assurance was given during a formal meeting with Mo Mowlam at Stormont, in the presence of a number of senior civil servants, in March or early April 1998.

He claimed she said there would be no legal pursuit of anyone, loyalist, republican, police officer or soldier, for offences committed before 1998.

Mr Smyth said similar assurances were also given by the former secretary of state during a number of private, informal meetings.

And that is indeed the situation that then Secretary of State, Peter Hain, attempted to formalise by legislation in 2005 – until Sinn Féin were forced to publicly withdraw support for the arrangements.  As Peter Hain stated in January 2006.

“The Government could have proceeded with this Bill when the issue was first raised seven years ago. We could have done so when the Joint Declaration was made in 2003. But we did not because the IRA had not delivered on its promise to end its war. We waited until that happened.

“Every Northern Ireland Party vigorously opposed the Bill, bar Sinn Fein. Now Sinn Fein is opposed because they refused to accept that this legislation should apply to members of the security forces charged with terrorism-related offences.

“Mr Speaker, to exclude any members of the security forces who might have been involved in such offences from the provisions of the Bill would not only have been illogical, it would have been indefensible and we would not do it. Closure on the past cannot be one-sided.”

Back to the courts today, the BBC report also notes

The judge, Lord Justice Coghlin, then held a brief private hearing with lawyers representing the Northern Ireland Office.

Perhaps to discuss what was reported previously in the Sunday Tribune?

In a document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Kevin Winters’ solicitors, the NIO says Sinn Féin provided the names of 216 on the runs. The PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service then reviewed files “to determine whether the individual is wanted for questioning, arrest or prosecution”.

The NIO said decisions were evidence-based and whether prosecution was in “the public interest”.

It claimed “political considerations play no part in this assessment”.

McGeough’s lawyers are demanding the authorities disclose “all material pertaining to any discussion, meetings and correspondence” relating to decisions not to prosecute certain republicans.

The former head of the PSNI’s serious crime squad, Norman Baxter, told a House of Commons’ committee last November: “There was an extremely unhealthy interest by (NIO) officials about prioritising individuals who were on the run and ensuring they were cleared to return to the North.”