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Maguire will face further court charges: Former convent girl cleared of terrorist offences in four countries since 1989 to stay in custody, writes David McKittrick

The outcome of the trial in Dusseldorf yesterday means that Donna Maguire, the convent-educated daughter of a respectable County Down businessman, has been cleared of IRA-connected charges in four countries in the past five years.

Aged 27, she has spent most of her 20s in a variety of prisons in the Irish Republic, Belgium, Holland and Germany. She will, however, remain in custody in Germany to face further serious charges.

Although a German judge said it was clear they were members of an IRA 'active service unit', she and her co- accused denied any association with the IRA. To date the authorities in four countries have failed to substantiate any involvement in the IRA's continental campaign of violence, which caused numerous casualties in several countries.

Ms Maguire's brushes with the law began in July 1989 when she and another man were arrested in Rosslare in the Republic after leaving a ferry from Cherbourg. Explosives, mercury tilt-switches and photographs of British army installations in Germany were said to have been found. At the subsequent trial the man received a five-year sentence but Maguire was acquitted in February 1990.

Five months later she and three men were arrested on the Belgian-Dutch border after an alleged IRA targetpractice session. The Belgian authorities brought a series of charges against her but these were later dropped and in December 1990 she was extradited to Holland. Together with the three men, she was charged with the murders of two Australian tourists who were gunned down by an IRA unit which mistook them for British soldiers.

The ensuing court proceedings represented the most expensive case ever mounted in Holland, lasting many months and involving a book of evidence 7,000 pages long. But the case, though detailed, was largely circumstantial and, to the embarrassment of the Dutch prosecution service, it failed. One of Ms Maguire's co-defendants was convicted but released on appeal. She and the two others were then extradited to Germany to stand trial for the murder of Michael Dillon-Lee, which yesterday ended in their acquittal.

A number of other republican suspects and confirmed IRA members were arrested on the continent in the early 1990s: so many were picked up, in fact, that republican prisoners' support groups established a special section to deal with their welfare.

The IRA's continental campaign opened a new front for the terrorists in the late 1980s, but it brought a series of killings, such as that of the Australian tourists and the six-month old daughter of a British serviceman, which were in republican terms counter-productive.

One of the central figures in the IRA's continental campaign, Dessie Grew, was killed by the SAS in October 1990 after he had returned to Northern Ireland. Since then IRA violence in Europe has largely petered out.

(Photographs omitted)