A court drama comes to curtain time without its two stars

 

McKevitt wasn't in court yesterday for the judgment in his month-long trial, but neither was the key witness against him, Mr Dave Rupert.

And the entire defence team, withdrawn by McKevitt in the final days of the hearing, was absent. The FBI boys, who had paced around the back of the courtroom, all sharp suits and short haircuts, weren't there either.

But the three judges were present, and they were the only ones that mattered yesterday. Word had it that Mr Rupert, who was flown from Ireland amid tight security after giving evidence, was sunning himself on a Pacific Island beach.

McKevitt's circumstances were more restricted. He was in the holding cells below, refusing to enter the courtroom, having earlier decided to take no further part in proceedings.

The judges inquired if he was still "declining to come up". A prison officer stepped into the witness box. "Mr McKevitt has written a bit of a note here," he said, waving a sheet of paper. Before he could read it out, prosecuting counsel objected.

It was inappropriate that the officer "acted as a mouthpiece" for McKevitt, he said.

Strict security measures at the Special Criminal Court meant most of the media contingent didn't even make it inside for the start of the judgment.

The bottle of water of The Irish Times was confiscated. "It could be used as a missile," a Garda sergeant declared. The acoustics were appalling, and press and public alike strained to hear the 44-page judgment.

But the gist was clear. McKevitt was in trouble. Mr Rupert, despite what Judge Richard Johnson called his "chequered business career", was a credible witness. He had enjoyed a Christian upbringing and had taken an oath to tell the truth.

He had sometimes been vague about the location and times of events, but Judge Johnson was impressed that the agent had remembered the "seating arrangements" at his first meeting with McKevitt in a Co Monaghan hotel.

The court heard details of McKevitt's IRA involvement and that he had set up a business videoing weddings. The Omagh relatives listened carefully to proceedings.

The "Real IRA" leader's wife, Ms Bernadette Sands McKevitt, wasn't present.

When the judgment was delivered, the prosecution wondered if McKevitt would now like to join proceedings. The prison officer was sent down to talk to the "Real IRA" leader. "There is as much chance of him coming up as there is of me winning the Lotto," said one of the Dundalk men.

"Mr McKevitt has declined," the prison officer announced politely.