Dissident loses court challenge over return to jail

Neil Hegarty had his licence revoked the day after he was freed after serving five years on bomb charges
Neil Hegarty had his licence revoked the day after he was freed after serving five years on bomb charges
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A dissident republican convicted of having explosives has lost a High Court battle over being returned to prison a day after he walked free.

Neil Hegarty’s release on licence was revoked last December after he allegedly denied entry to install electronic monitoring equipment at his home in Londonderry.

The 52-year-old’s lawyers argued the decision was unlawfully based on false assertions that he intended not to cooperate with the tagging condition.

But a judge dismissed his case after rejecting claims the Department of Justice had acted irrationally.

Mr Justice McCloskey said: “The recall determination of the official concerned plainly lay within the range of reasonable decisions available to him.”

Hegarty was one of three men sentenced to 10 years for possession of explosives in Londonderry.

Police stopped them in a car containing an anti-personnel device in the Creggan area of the city in December 2012.

Hegarty served five years behind bars before being released on licence conditions which included compliance with electronic monitoring.

But the following day the PSNI informed a parole commissioner that he failed to admit security staff to his home to fit the equipment, the court heard.

A police report alleged G4S personnel who went to the mid-terrace property at Benevenagh Gardens observed a number of men inside and were refused entry.

It was also claimed that before leaving prison Hegarty had revealed he would not be consenting to having the equipment fitted.

The parole commissioner concluded that he had displayed “wilful disengagement” with the licence process and recommended the revocation.

Hegarty’s legal team challenged the accuracy of evidence against him and questioned the description of the house security staff said they visited.

Seeking to have the licence revocation quashed, they argued that the commissioner had unreasonably accepted unattributed, unexplained and false assertions of fact as evidence without a proper inquiry.

Claims that Hegarty had either revealed his intention to refuse cooperation or entry to his home were incorrect, it was contended.

Ruling on the challenge, Mr Justice McCloskey identified issues in the police dossier provided to the commissioner.

“The gloss in this report relating to ‘wilful disengagement’ and ‘affirmation’ was opaque, unparticularised and, having regard to the totality of the evidence, misleading,” he said.

However, he held that the threshold for judicial intervention had not been overcome.

Following the verdict Hegarty’s solicitor confirmed his intention to lodge an appeal.