Judge clears Londonderry dissident of IRA membership

Thomas Mellon pictured at a previous court hearing.
Thomas Mellon pictured at a previous court hearing.

A Londonderry dissident republican was today (Tuesday) found not guilty of directing the terrorist activites of the IRA and being a member of the proscribed organisation.

Judge David McFarland said there was “no hard evidence’’ that Thomas Ashe Mellon was a member of the IRA or had a “directing role, at any level of it either as a member or outside its structures’’.

In his reserved judgement, the Belfast Recorder added: “The often quoted phrase that the proverbial dogs on the street may have reached certain conclusions in relation to matters is of no evidence. This court does not rely on canine intuition, but rather on hard evidence.”

Mellon (39), of Rathmore Road, Derry, had gone on trial last week where he denied being a member or professing to be a member of the IRA and directing its activities on dates between December 31, 2013 and June 7, 2014.

He and his co-accused William McDonnell (28), of Culdaff Gardens, Londonderry, had previously pleaded guilty to possessiing a “handwritten note in circumstances which gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that its possession was for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.”

During the trial, Belfast Crown Court heard that on June 5, 2014, McDonnell attempted to enter Maghaberry prison to visit a republican prisoner held in Roe House when he was searched by a member of the Prison Service.

The judge was told that the search revealed a small package wrapped in cling film on the left inside pocket of the jacket he was wearing.

McDonnell was allowed to leave the prison and the package was later forensically examined and found to contain 13 cigarette papers stuck together bearing hand written text in black ball pen signed ‘T’.

He later drove towards Londonderry and stopped at a restaurant on the Glenshane Pass where he was observed talking to Mellon.

A forensic scientist said he examined the document against other items seized from Mellon and compared the handwriting style.

He stated that in his opinion “the handwriting evidence strongly supports the proposition that the defendant is the writer of the seized noted.”

A second forensic scientist also examined the note and removed a sample from the cigarette papers and compared it with a DNA sample police had taken from Mellon.

He was of the opinion that there was a “predominant DNA profile matching that of the defendant recovered from the joins between the cigarette papers that made up the seized note.”

Judge McFarland said that the defendant, through his counsel, admitted that he was the creator of the paper and the author of the note and “by his guilty plea he has acknowledged that he possessed the note in circumstances which gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession of the note was for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.”

During the trial, Mellon declined to give evidence and the prosecution urged the court to draw an adverse inference from his refusal testify on his own behalf.

Judge McFarland described the note as “something of a polemic or diatribe but includes a rallying call, attempts at morale boosting, and a few words of warning.”

The Belfast Recorder said the note also referred to an “informer in the area” and it was “very hard” to determine who the informer is.

“I interpret the world ‘Brussel’ as meaning informer following the pattern of cockney rhyming slang - brussel sprout = tout.”

The note also referred to prisoners as “POWs’’ and warned them not to engage in “loose talk” as information was being disclosed during prisoner visits.

There was also several comments in the handwritten document to “the 32s,” a reference to the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.

One remark stated: “Things are not good in gaol as you are degrading the 32s and no craft to go to 32s. He is a nite mare (sic). I have combatted this by saying that of course the 32s can get craft but what goes out has to be approved and appeal to the wider republican base.

“I will not allow any dual army operating along with the IRA.”

Another comment, said the judge, appeared to condone political murder. It said: “If things had of worked out right we would be cheering on the army after a couple of stiffs.”

The Belfast Recorder added: “I am satisfied having considered all the evidence as inferred from the content of the note and the context that the defendant has a leadership role in what has been described as the ‘32s’, namely the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.

“This organisation is not a proscribed organisation....which emerged out of disagreements within the mainstream republican movement in the mid-1990s and was largely set up by disaffected members of Sinn Féin and others who were not supportive of the engagement of Sinn Féin in its negotiations with the British and Irish governments and locally based political parties.

“To convict the defendant of membership of the IRA, in whatever its guises, Provisional or Real, the prosecution cannot simply rely on membership of what is a lawful organisation.

“It must either show that the 32 Count Sovereignty Movement is one and the same as the IRA, or should they be independent organisations, whatever his membership or role in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement he is also a member of the IRA.”

The judge said that the expressed dismay and instructions in the note at the “apparent co-operation” by prisoners with the criminal justice system could have come from either the IRA “as a form of exercising leadership” or equally it could have come the 32 CSM as its role would be to “garner and maintain support for the Real IRA within the community. This would include maintenance of morale outside the prison.’’

“There is no such evidence before me to suggest that the 32 CSM is one and same as the IRA,” said Judge McFarland.

“The content of the note and its context does raise suspicions about the exact position of the defendant, but falls short of the standard required in a criminal trial.

“There is no such evidence in this case to make me sure that the defendant is a member of the IRA, or that he has a directing role at any level. I therefore find him not guilty of counts three and four.”

McDonnell was released on continuing bail while Mellon was remanded back into custody. Both men will be sentenced at the end of this week for possession of the note.