A Derry republican was today found not guilty of directing the terrorist activites of the IRA and being a member of the 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, Derry, 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, prepartion 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 forencially examined and found to contain 13 cigarette papers stuck together bearing hand written text in black ball pen and signed ‘T’.
He later drove towards Derry 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 note”.
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 to 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 that it was “very hard” to determine who the informer was.
“I interpret the world ‘Brussel’ as meaning informer following the pattern of cockey 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 were also several comments in the handwritten document to “the 32s”, a reference to the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.
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 ‘32’s’, 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 Fein and others who were not supportive of the engagement of Sinn Fein 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 County 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.”
He added: “There is no such evidence before me to suggest that the 32 CSM is one and same as the IRA.
“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.