Derry man denies bringing note into prison for Real IRA

William McDonnell (28) pleads not guilty to possessing article during Maghaberry visit

A Derry man has denied bringing a note into Northern Ireland's top security prison on behalf of the leadership of the Real IRA.

William McDonnell (28), of Culdaff Gardens, in the Creggan area of Derry city, appeared in the dock at Belfast Crown Court for an arraignment hearing.

Mr McDonnell pleaded not guilty to a single charge that on June 5th, 2014, during a visit to Maghaberry Prison, he "possessed an article, namely, a handwritten note, in circumstances which gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession was for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism".

Charge dismissed


Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland had earlier dismissed a further charge against Mr McDonnell of being a member of a proscribed organisation on dates between December 31st, 2013 and June 7th, 2014.

The judge said: “In my view there is insufficient evidence to show that he is a member of a proscribed organisation.”

A prosecution lawyer told the court that he would consult with the Public Prosecution Service on whether to appeal the decision to dismiss the membership charge.

Mr McDonnell was released on continuing bail to await a fixed date for his trial.

His co-defendant Thomas Ashe Mellon (39), of Rathmore Road, Derry, will be arraigned on March 13th at Belfast Crown Court on the charges of directing terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and possession of an article likely to be of use to terrorism.

No details were given in court today of the nature of the charges against the two defendants.

However, at a previous hearing in July last year, a court heard that a note written on joined up pieces of cigarette paper and wrapped in cling film was found in the possession of Mr McDonnell, who was visiting Maghaberry to see an inmate held in the wing occupied by members of the so-called “new IRA”.

A police officer told the court that DNA and handwriting tests on the letter, which was signed “T”, provided evidence that Mr Mellon was the author.

Mr Mellon’s lawyer insisted his client did not accept that he had written the note, saying the case against him was “very, very weak”.