Court cleared over supporters’ cheers

A CO Antrim magistrate cleared his court after an outburst by supporters of five people charged with Real IRA membership and possession of explosives.

Cheers and shouts greeted the appearance of Anthony Martin Lee of Fisherwick Crescent in Ballymena at the town’s magistrates court yesterday morning.

The 29-year-old was one of five people from Ballymena arrested following the discovery of three incendiary bombs on Saturday.

The devices were found during the search of a house at Fisherwick Gardens.

Also charged were Liam Lyness, a 20-year-old butcher from Fisherwick Crescent, unemployed Christopher Daniel Smiley (20) from Dunclug Park, Anthony Martin Lee, a 29-year-old unemployed baker from Fisherwick Crescent and 22-year-old dental nurse Simone Sloan from Fisherwick Gardens.

There was a heavy police presence both inside and outside the courthouse, with officers armed with long-arm weapons standing guard on the street.

Mr Lee was the first to appear in the dock charged with being a member of the republican paramilitary group and possessing explosives with intent to endanger life or damage property.

Friends and relatives of the five accused applauded as he was brought in, prompting resident magistrate Richard Wilson to order their ejection from his courtroom.

“Everybody clapping – out. They don’t know how to behave,” Mr Wilson said, instructing that only one family member of each defendant be readmitted when they appeared before the court.

Police assisted court officials in clearing the court.

However, following representations from the defendants’ solicitors, they were allowed to return after giving undertakings that there would be no further disruption to proceedings.

The court heard that Mr Lee, Mr Smiley and Mr Lyness had all replied “I’ve never been a member of any illegal organisation”, making no reply to the explosive charge.

Ms Sloan answered “I completely deny the allegations” when the charges were put to her.

Mr O’Neill made no reply to either charge and refused to speak in court, even to confirm his name.

He had to be made by police officers to stand as the charges were read to him.

Police are awaiting the results of forensic tests but Detective Constable Paul Bennett said he believed that he could connect the accused to the charges.

Peter Madden, solicitor for Mr Lee, Mr Smiley and Mr Lyness said he would be asking a forensic expert to examine the material seized by police “as there is a question mark over the nature of the material”.

All five were remanded in custody to appear at the court by video-link on March 3.

Some of the accused shouted republican slogans as they were being led out of the court in handcuffs.

The road outside the courthouse was closed as they were taken away.