A Co Louth man who has spent almost six years in Lithuanian prisons is preparing to return home after a court quashed his conviction for trying to buy weapons for the Real IRA.
Michael Campbell, the younger brother of prominent dissident republican Liam Campbell, was sentenced to 12 years in jail in 2011 for trying to acquire arms and explosives from a man who he thought was a weapons dealer, but was in fact an undercover Lithuanian agent.
His arrest in 2008 was the result of an elaborate sting operation involving the Irish, British and Lithuanian security services, but Campbell and his lawyer, Ingrida Botyriene, always argued that he was a victim of entrapment whose supposed links to the Real IRA had not been proven.
'No direct evidence'
Overturning his conviction, Judge Viktoras Kazys said: "There was no direct evidence proving Campbell's ties with Real IRA. He was never arrested by British or Irish authorities for terrorism-linked activities . . . The prosecution did not provide enough evidence to deny statements that Campbell's actions were provoked by undercover MI5 agents."
He also criticised Irish and British handling of the case, saying: “It was impossible to comprehensively explore the case when British and Irish institutions refused to co-operate with Lithuanian courts and prosecutors.”
Police in the courtroom in the Baltic state’s capital, Vilnius, immediately unlocked Mr Campbell’s handcuffs and he was told that he was free to go.
"I am very happy," Mr Campbell (41) said, adding that he hoped to return to Ireland "as soon as possible".
Ms Botyriene said her client had gone to the Irish Embassy and was “sorting out documents” for his journey home. “His greatest wish is to rejoin his family,” she said.
Prosecutors said Campbell paid undercover agents several thousand euros for weapons that included a sniper rifle, detonators, timers and high explosives, which could have been used against targets in Britain. They also claimed to have recorded Mr Campbell discussing how the devices could be used for a bomb attack in London and to blow up a car.
Mr Campbell told the court he had travelled to Lithuania to buy arms, but insisted they were not for the Real IRA.
Ms Botyriene said she expected prosecutors to appeal against yesterday’s verdict, and that Mr Campbell may seek compensation.