Welsh firebomb conviction is first in 12 years: One man was convicted and two cleared of a firebomb plot in Wales but disquiet remains over police tactics against Meibion Glyndwr. David Connett reports.

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The Independent Online
NORTH Wales Police are a stoic group. They need to be. Frequently the butt of biting local humour, the jokes outside Caernarfon Crown Court during the Welsh firebomb trial were particularly cruel. 'They wanted help from MI5 but telephoned MFI instead, now they've got all the pieces but none of them fit,' one member of the public said.

Many wonder how long the good humour will last. It has taken 12 years of burning holiday homes and estate agents' offices before detectives secured their first conviction against the militant Welsh nationalist group Meibion Glyndwr - Sons of Glendower.

There is growing disquiet at their inability to arrest the dozen people believed to be behind up to 230 arson attacks. An offer of a large reward, confidential hotlines and the involvement of MI5 have brought scant reward for the special arson squad. Meibion Glyndwr's ability to strike with impunity featured prominently in the trial, which ended yesterday. 'For the last 12 years North Wales Police have been waging a war on the public's behalf against those involved in the arson campaign. They have had an embarrassingly unsuccessful record,' Nigel Mylne QC, for the defence, said.

He claimed the frustration of failure prompted police and MI5 agents to plant evidence against his client, Sion Aubrey Roberts, 21, who was found guilty of possessing explosive substances after the jury heard that bomb-making equipment was found in his flat in Llangefni, Anglesey.

Roberts was also found guilty of sending four incendiary devices in the post to a Welsh Office minister, Sir Wyn Roberts, a Tory agent, Elwyn Jones, and two senior police officers. He was cleared of another charge, along with David Gareth Davies, 34, of Gwalchmai, Anglesey, of conspiring to cause explosions.

Mr Justice Pill directed the jury to find Mr Davies not guilty of a further charge of sending incendiary devices in the post. Dewi Prysor Williams, 25, of Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd, was also cleared of conspiring to cause explosions.

All three expressed sympathy for Meibion Glyndwr. Roberts and Mr Williams admitted taking part in an IRA-style memorial parade complete with black berets and armbands to commemorate two Welsh nationalist 'martyrs' who died when the bomb they were carrying blew up in 1969.

The three said they were members of 'the Covenantors', a movement campaigning for Welsh independence by 2000. Mr Williams claimed Meibion Glyndwr were heroes to thousands of the young in Wales but said he did not support attacks on people.

Regardless of prosecution evidence and the defendants' undisguised admiration for Meibion Glyndwr, the jury was far from convinced. After an eight-week trial and days of deliberations, Roberts was found guilty by majority verdicts.

Confusing and contradictory evidence from detectives and unidentified, 'unaccountable' MI5 officers who spoke from behind screens heightened the concern of many who watched proceedings. It did nothing to check unsubstantiated defence claims that the defendants had been framed.

Unchallenged defence allegations that 38 officers fom MI5 and 12 detectives who kept Roberts under surveillance amounted to a 'strategy of overkill' had many wondering how it could be that Roberts could allegedly post four incendiary devices unseen.

The revelation that MI5 sought a blanket ban on reporting vital evidence and that it required orders by the judge to force disclosure sat uncomfortably in an open courtroom.

It also sat uneasily with the closing speech of Martin Thomas QC, for the prosecution, in which he attacked Meibion Glyndwr as a 'symbol of shame', a group who acted 'secretively and furtively'.

'The true sons and daughters of Glyndwr didn't skulk about in corners,' he said. They sang in the world's opera houses, were skilful in the professions and business and provided cross-party political leadership in the UK. They were ordinary people doing their jobs in the community. 'The secret acts of those who seek to terrorise have no right, no part in such a community,' he said.