'IRA kidnap victim' was agent for police, court told

The mystery of the fate of an Armagh man who has been missing for nine months deepened yesterday when it was alleged in court that he had acted as a police agent.

The claim was made during a Belfast hearing on the case of four men charged with possession of a rocket launcher.

The court was told the Crown intended to make an application for a Public Interest Immunity Certificate to prevent the disclosure of certain information during the trial on grounds of national security.

Gareth O'Connor, 24, from Armagh city, went missing in May fromthe south Armagh area. His family has accused the IRA of abducting and killing him. The Northern Ireland chief constable, Hugh Orde, has said it is highly likely the IRA was responsible.

Yesterday's hearing involved four men who are due to stand trial next month, charged with conspiring to murder members of the security forces. They were said to have been arrested by police at Coalisland in Co Tyrone in 2002, when a rocket launcher was seized.

The four men, all from Tyrone, are Sean Dillon, Donald Mullan, Kevin Barry Murphy and Brendan O'Connor.

Counsel for Brendan O'Connor, making an application for a change to the nature of the four men's defence, said they had been lured to a field by Gareth O'Connor to carry out a burglary, and had not possessed the rocket launcher.

Frank O'Donoghue QC said the defence believed Gareth O'Connor had been a police agent.He added: "The chief constable has said he believes Gareth O'Connor is dead. The defence is these men have been victims of collusion between Mr O'Connor and the police."

A court in the Irish Republic is meanwhile shortly to hear a charge of membership of the Real IRA against another Armagh man. Gareth O'Connor faced a similar charge.

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