Court hears loyalist support in republican case
A leading loyalist spokesman has supported claims by a prominent republican that he should not have been charged with the attempted murder of a former UDR soldier almost 30 years ago.
Gerry McGeough was charged three years ago with the attempted murder of Samuel Brush at Ballygawley in June 1981.
Mr McGeogh's defence claim he was given assurances he would not be prosecuted if he returned to NI after an absence of almost 20 years.
They want the case thrown out.
Gerry McGeough is a former member of Sinn Fein who stood as an independent republican candidate in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the Assembly elections three years ago.
He was arrested in the car park of the count centre in Omagh and charged with the attempted murder of a former UDR soldier at Ballygawley in June 1981.
The soldier, Samuel Brush, who's now a DUP councillor in Dungannon, fired back at his attackers and injured one of the masked gunmen.
The prosecution alleges that the person injured was Gerry McGeough, who was later treated for a gunshot wound in a hospital in County Monaghan shortly after the shooting.
His defence team made an abuse of process application at Belfast Crown Court, arguing that the case should be thrown out.
They argue that the delay in bringing the prosecution has made it difficult for him to mount a defence, and also claim he was given assurances that he would not be prosecuted if he returned to Northern Ireland after living outside the jurisdiction for almost 20 years.
In their view, that means he should not have been arrested in Omagh three years ago.
Giving evidence on Thursday, Gerry McGeogh told the court that he spoke to senior Sinn Fein member, Gerry Kelly in 2000 and asked if he could clarify the position for so-called on the runs (OTR's), people wanted by the police for offences committed before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
He claimed Mr Kelly came back to him and gave him a verbal assurance that it would be safe to return.
The prosecution don't accept that was the case.
Questioned by prosecution lawyer Gordon Kerr QC, Gerry McGeough agreed that he had never been given any formal assurances by the prosecution authorities.
He told the court he didn't believe he needed a formal assurance because Gerry Kelly had indicated that the matter had been resolved.
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.
The judge, Lord Justice Coghlin, then held a brief private hearing with lawyers representing the Northern Ireland Office.
He is due to give his ruling by Monday.