The PSNI and the threat to peace in the north of Ireland
Jane Kearney has a message for PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde: “If he wants to know where the real threat to peace in the North of Ireland is, then he need look no further than his own force.”
At around 7am on Friday, October 4, 2002, the PSNI put Mrs Kearney’s husband, Ciarán, into a Land Rover and took him away for three months before he was released on bail.
At around the same time on the same day, the same force put Mrs Kearney’s father, Denis Donaldson, into a Land Rover and took him away for precisely the same length of time until he too was released on bail.
Ciarán Kearney and Denis Donaldson, alongside Billy Mackessy, were both charged with possessing information that could be useful to terrorists.
On Thursday of this week, the three men were found not guilty on all counts by direction of Justice Hart in Belfast Crown Court.
Two other people charged in the interim with alleged associated offences previously had all the charges against them dropped.
While much of the focus has been on unfounded PSNI allegations against the three men about a so-called ‘Stormont spy-ring’, few have attempted to understand the immense personal impact of the PSNI’s actions over the past three years against one wide family circle.
Speaking to Daily Ireland last night, Jane Kearney gave a lucid account of the turmoil experienced as a result of her family’s treatment by the PSNI and prosecuting authorities. Her mother Alice Donaldson outlined the personal impact on the health and well-being of innocent people torn apart from their loved ones more than three years ago.
“This entire episode started for us at 5 o’clock one Friday morning, when armed men, hyped-up and highly aggressive, shouting and banging, wearing masks and black boiler suits smashed their way in to our house and placed us under room arrest – with no regard whatsoever for the presence of two small children who were terrified,” Mrs Kearney said.
“We were all in shock and I remember asking if I could phone my parents to get them over to help us, at which stage the peelers started laughing. But I picked up the phone anyway and mammy answered and I told her the peelers were raiding the house and she said they’re raiding here too. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Mrs Donaldson only remembers the PSNI invading her house “like a herd of cattle” and then receiving her daughter’s helpless phone call.
“I couldn’t take it in. I was in shock. I know they placed us under room arrest and that’s about all I can remember from the raid,” Mrs Donaldson said.
Almost simultaneously, father and husband were arrested by the PSNI and taken away. Mother and daughter were “left devastated, trying to cope with a completely unreal situation”, Mrs Kearney said.
At the same time, the PSNI raided Sinn Féin’s offices at Parliament Buildings.
Over the following 48 hours, the media published the names, addresses, ages, and personal backgrounds of all those arrested. Unsubstantiated and untrue allegations about the raids and arrests littered the media like confetti both before and after charges were preferred.
After Denis Donaldson was charged on Sunday, October 6, 2002, his daughter answered her front door the following day to find an English journalist who called her by name. She shut the door in his face, only to open it a few hours later to another PSNI raiding party.
“They came back on the Monday afternoon, and maybe because the girls were at school and they didn’t need me to hold it together, I was more physically upset. At the time of the second raid, Mammy had been put on sedatives by the doctor and was sleeping up the stairs in my house. We just couldn’t believe it,” Mrs Kearney said.
“I remember, in particular, someone coming in supposedly to take carpet fibre samples, yet they weren’t wearing any gloves and there was no attempt to avoid cross-contamination. They took most of Ciarán’s clothes.”
Mrs Donaldson said the PSNI “were grasping at straws to try and keep Ciarán”.
“They didn’t get any evidence during the first raid and they didn’t get any during the second raid, yet they still held him for seven days before charging him. I couldn’t believe it. It was terrible.”
After being remanded to Maghaberry Prison, both Ciarán Kearney and Denis Donaldson were kept apart, prevented from even sharing a cell for over a month.
Their families were deeply concerned that the presence of loyalists and criminals put their lives in danger.
While trying to manage prison visits in a co-ordinated way, the families faced consistent and disruptive harassment from prison warders.
Subsequent High Court bail applications were “a sham”, Mrs Kearney said.
“The PSNI approach was about sullying the reputations of my husband and my father with some of the most bizzare and untrue allegations you could ever imagine. Denis was made out to be Bin Laden’s man in Ireland and Ciarán was supposed to have spoken at a major public meeting in America. It was ludicrous, but also highly dangerous because untrue allegations were being made and then carried verbatim by the media to justify the so-callled ‘spy-ring’ fantasy.”
Mrs Donaldson was too ill to attend any of the bail applications but she hit out at the “vindictiveness” shown against her husband and son-in-law. Despite both men being eventually released after three months under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights, they had to wait exactly three more years to have their long-held assertions of innocence vindicated by Justice Hart on Thursday.
“There was absolutely nothing to it apart from dirty tricks and underhand political policing by Special Branch. They had no evidence, yet turned our lives upside down for over three years. And despite the direction of ‘not guilty’, there are still people trying to cast a shadow over their innocence,” Mrs Donaldson said.
Mrs Kearney said the families are still waiting to get large amounts of personal belonging back from the PSNI.
“Ciarán’s father, Oliver, was in very poor health before the arrests and afterwards he deteriorated rapidly. It had a terrible effect on him and he died a few months after Ciarán got out on bail.
“The real examination now must be about Operation Torsion and political policing. If they can tear down a government and wreck lives once, they can do it again.
“These people think they are a law unto themselves,” Mrs Kearney said.
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