On Thursday 25 March, there was an oral hearing at Laganside Crown Court, Belfast in the long-running trial of Colin Duffy, Henry Fitzsimons, and Alex McCrory. And as The Canary previously reported, the men’s defence raises serious questions about the prosecution’s evidence against them.
In particular, it questions the experts’ analysis of alleged covert audio recording and the role of MI5. In the defence’s oral submission on 25 March, it reiterated these questions. This trial has been running for over two years.
On 5 December 2013, there was an attack on a PSNI convoy in north Belfast. Duffy, Fitzsimons, and McCrory were remanded in custody in December 2013.
They were imprisoned without trial for over two years before being released on bail in February 2016. Fitzsimons and McCrory are charged with attempted murder, firearm possession, preparation of terrorist acts, directing a terrorist organisation, and membership of a proscribed organisation. Duffy is charged with preparation of terrorist acts, directing a terrorist organisation and membership of a proscribed organisation.
Expert audio analysis
The men were allegedly recorded and videoed by MI5 in a park in Lurgan discussing the attack the following day. Voice experts professor Peter French and Dr Christin Kirchhubel gave evidence in court about this alleged recording. Kirchhubel had once worked for French. They said the alleged undercover MI5 recordings of the three men supported the claim that they’re the suspects in the attack on police.
But the defence exposed inconsistencies in French and Kirchhubel’s analysis. And on 25 March, it said that part of French’s analysis of the audio was “fundamentally flawed”. According to the defence, the features identified by the experts on the recording could belong to “hundreds of thousands of people” – so their analysis of the recording “is meaningless”.
Admissibility of evidence
The defence dismissed the prosecution’s apparent claim that evidence needs only to be “relevant” to be “admissible” in court, claiming it must also be “prima facie authentic” to be admissible. This is why, according to the defence:
the prosecution submissions on this issue are really…misconceived. Because they suggest that the only test is relevance.
And the defence questioned whether the prosecution had properly proven the authenticity of the tape recordings before the court. So on that basis, these recordings should be inadmissible.
The defence then turned to the evidence of MI5 technical operative PIN 9281. It said it didn’t have access to the relevant material to properly challenge this operative’s evidence. It also said it couldn’t fully accept his evidence because:
We don’t know what happened. We have not made positive allegations against any of these witnesses as to what took place because we simply don’t know. And cannot properly say. But we do not accept at face value, what’s being suggested to the court as the account of what happened. Because it is so obviously wrong in different respects and contradictory, self contradictory…including in particular in relation to PIN 9281
It added PIN 9281’s evidence is “not worthy of belief”.
The defence also asserted that MI5 deliberately destroyed all the data including the metadata, stating:
there is a vacuum in the evidence
there’s nothing conventional about this case
As The Canary previously reported, the defence suggested French and Kirchhubel were influenced by cognitive bias. And on 25 March, the defence pointed out that a draft transcript provided by the police influenced their analysis. This is because the identities of the suspected speakers were on that transcript. In addition to receiving this transcript, the defence claimed French said he “was given a steer”.
It said French and his colleagues should have told the police not to provide this transcript. The defence added that while there are steps to mitigate the risk of cognitive bias, Kirchhubel didn’t take those steps. It said French admitted he wouldn’t conduct the process this way again.
When will this all end?
The judge said he would aim to give his ruling in the week beginning 19 April.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?