Political storm as 'spy ring' accused walk free

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The Independent Online

Three men charged with involvement in an alleged republican spying ring that brought down Northern Ireland's political institutions were dramatically acquitted in a Belfast court yesterday.

In a development that laid yet another layer of mystery over an already controversial case, the court heard the Director of Public Prosecutions had concluded that prosecutions "are no longer in the public interest." The move provoked an instant political storm, with jubilant republicans claiming it showed that elements in the Government had been intent on sabotaging the Northern Ireland peace process.

Unionists demanded to know exactly what was going on and why the cases had been so abruptly terminated without public explanation. The Rev Ian Paisley has demanded to see Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.

The charges arose from republican activity at Stormont, Northern Ireland's seat of government, where police staged a high-profile raid on Sinn Fein offices in October 2002. The incident led the Government to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly after Unionists said they would walk out. It has remained in mothballs ever since.

Cases were dropped against Denis Donaldson, and his son-in-law Ciaran Kearney, who were accused of having documents likely to be of use to terrorists. Civil servant William Mackessy had been charged with collecting information on the security forces.