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Secret service surveillance secrecy leads to court case collapse

A court case in Northern Ireland involving some of the "most sophisticated" surveillance "ever seen" collapsed last week after MI5 refused a judge's order to provide more detail on tracking devices it had used to monitor the movements of three brothers accused of conspiracy to murder police and prison officers.

"A MAJOR MI5 surveillance operation against three Co Armagh republicans used methods never publicly revealed before.

"New details of the sting have emerged after the case against the men collapsed this week.

"Brothers Paul and Damien Duffy, along with their cousin Shane Duffy, were acquitted of all paramilitary related charges at a Belfast court on Thursday.

"The charges, which the men had denied, included conspiracy to murder police and prison officers."

See: MI5 surveillance 'most sophisticated ever seen' (Irish News, link)

"The MI5 operation, which lasted three years, required 45 MI5 officers (apparently known as "Pins"), 35 Northern Ireland police officers (known as "Oscars"), and cost millions of pounds in total. It involved the use of audio surveillance and tracking devices fitted to vehicles, a helicopter, and possibly drones...


"In the past, a similar reluctance to reveal how key evidence was obtained has led to the UK government being forced to drop cases and pay compensation. A desire to avoid this problem was one of the main motivations for introducing secret courts in 2013—ironically, just a week after the first Snowden revelations about massive surveillance by both GCHQ and NSA. Given that we already know so much about how intelligence agencies spy on people, it seems absurd that the UK government is still prepared to waste hard work by 80 of its agents, costing millions of pounds, in an attempt to pretend that MI5's techniques are still completely top secret."

See: MI5 surveillance techniques, costing millions, revealed in collapsed court case (Ars Technica, link)

The judgment that led to the collapse of the case says the following:

"...I make the following order to ensure that the trial process viewed as a whole is fair to the defendants.

"The prosecution shall disclose to the accused details of the manufacturer and the model number of any relevant devices used to record the location and activities of any vehicle or person involved in this case in order to provide tracking evidence and the details of the specification of the GPS components of the devices."

See: The Queen v Paul Duffy, Damien Duffy and Shane Duffy [2015] NICC 13, 22 October 2015 (pdf)

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