Real IRA suspect sacks his lawyers at 'show trial'

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A man accused of being the mastermind of the Real IRA sacked his defence lawyers yesterday and refused to take any further part in his trial, claiming crucial evidence was tainted.

Michael McKevitt, 53, the suspected head of the dissident republican group, accused British and Irish security services of tampering with and holding back information central to his defence.

He rejected the opportunity to appoint a new defence team but the three judges sitting in Dublin's non-jury Special Criminal Court ordered him to attend the rest of the trial.

Mr McKevitt alleged that a detective told him senior politicians had ordered his arrest, and he claimed surveillance reports which would have cast doubt on the evidence of the star prosecution witness, David Rupert, had not been disclosed. "I will not participate any further in this political show trial and am now withdrawing myself with my dignity intact," he said.

Mr McKevitt, of Dundalk, Co Louth, denies directing the Real IRA and being a member of the rogue republican outfit which killed 29 people and two unborn babies in the Omagh bomb in August 1998.

The defence claims its case has been irreparably damaged because documents were withheld which refuted allegations by Mr Rupert, an FBI agent, that he attended a Real IRA army council meeting with Mr McKevitt in February 2000.

But the judges ruled any issues arising from the confusion could be resolved by recalling the spy, who was paid more than $1.25m (£800,000) to infiltrate dissident republican organisations, as a witness. The decision prompted Mr McKevitt to dispense with his legal team.

Mr McKevitt read a statement saying: "In his statement Mr Rupert alleged I attended an army council meeting on 17 February 2000. However, recently disclosed Garda surveillance situated me in my home on that date. Why was this withheld for two-and-a-half years?"

His defence had spent two-and-a-half years hunting down all relevant Garda surveillance reports and documents supplied by the FBI and MI5.

Twelve months ago his solicitor was told by state prosecutors that all significant papers on the case apart from those kept on the grounds of national security had been disclosed, yet new material only emerged once the trial had begun. "These surveillance reports were clearly relevant to my case," Mr McKevitt said.

The judges ruled that Mr McKevitt must continue to be brought before them.