Inquiry demand as 'Real IRA' trial collapses

Demands are growing for an investigation into why a Real IRA bomb trial was allowed to collapse amid claims that an alleged security-force agent was being protected from prosecution.

The trial of four people from the Ballymena area ended at Belfast Crown Court yesterday (Monday) when the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) withdrew all charges.

The case related to the arrest of four people at a house in Ballymena, Co Antrim, in February 2005 when police recovered three incendiary devices during a raid.

Two of the defendants were alleged to have had the devices hidden down their trousers.

Despite what appeared to be strong evidence against the four the PPS said all charges were be-ing dropped due to the emergence of new information, al-though it declined to elaborate.

The abandonment of the trial is understood to centre on claims that senior dissident republican Paddy Murray was being protected from prosecution as a security-force agent.

Sinn Fein, the DUP and SDLP last night called for an investigation into the trial's collapse and allegations that Murray was protected.

The DUP's Ian Paisley jnr expressed "alarm" at the case's outcome.

"It's extremely worrying that here we have another attempt to try and get republicans into the dock and it collapses for no apparent reason," he said.

"The police have got to come clean and explain what's been going on here."

The SDLP's Dolores Kelly also called on the PPS to explain.

"They are telling people it was in the public interest to drop these charges but I want to know whose interests are being protected," she said.

Raising concerns that a security-force agent was being protected, Sinn Fein's Daithi McKay said: "Clearly there is something wrong with this case and the people of Ballymena deserve answers.

"In recent years certain people made concerted efforts to raise sectarian tensions in Ballymena.

"It seems clear now that those efforts were being deliberately orchestrated by the securocrats to try and destabilise the peace process."

In a separate development, Murray has agreed a deal with the PPS meaning that he will serve only eight months for the serious assault of a man in Co Antrim.

Murray is due to be sentenced next month for his part in the attack on Antrim man Kevin Gillen in September 2005.

Kidnap charges against Murray and two others were dropped last November after the gang pleaded guilty and agreed to accept two-year jail sentences for the assault.

With remission and time served on remand Murray is expected to be freed after eight months.

He is expected to serve his sentence in solitary confinement for his own safety