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Irishman Michael Campbell released after Real IRA arms conviction overturned

The Lithuanian appeals court cited Britain and Ireland’s refusal to cooperate with prosecutors as a reason for the lack of evidence in linking Campbell with the Real IRA.

Michael Campbell utside court today.
Michael Campbell utside court today.
Image: Domantas Umbrasas/AP/Press Association Images

A LITHUANIAN APPEALS court has overturned the conviction of an Irishman charged with plotting to smuggle arms from the Baltic state to the Real IRA paramilitary group.

It cited a lack of evidence for its decision.

Michael Campbell was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2011, but has long insisted he was framed by British intelligence.

An appeals court judge in Vilnius struck down the sentence, and said there was no evidence linking Campbell with the Real IRA.

“State institutions have not provided evidence that would rule out his (Campbell’s) claim that he was framed by MI5 agents,” Judge Viktoras Kazys said, before ordering Campbell’s release from custody.

“It was impossible to comprehensively explore the case when British and Irish institutions refused to cooperate with Lithuanian courts and prosecutors,” he added.

Lithuanian prosecutors will now appeal the verdict with the Supreme Court.

After the ruling, a smiling Campbell told AFP he planned “to go home” to Ireland, but refused further comment.

“The court defended the basic principle that the state cannot create a crime and then convict a person for it,” his lawyer Ingrida Botyriene noted.

His release has been welcomed by an inter-party group including deputies Maureen O’Sullivan, Clare Daly, Martin Ferris and Eamon O Cuív.

“We met Mr. Campbell in prison and it was clear that not only were there serious concerns over his conviction, but that he had spent over five years in poor, over-crowded and inhumane conditions,” they said in a statement issued by Sinn Féin’s press office this evening.

“We are therefore delighted for Mr Campbell and his family, and hope that the can rebuild his life on his return to Ireland.”

Background

Campbell was sentenced to 12 years behind bars by a district court in 2011 for attempted smuggling, aiding a terrorist group and illegal possession of arms.

But he appealed, arguing there was no evidence backing up the testimony of a main witness for the prosecution identified in court as a smuggler and British agent.

The 41-year-old Irishman has also long denied being a member of the Real IRA, a dissident group.

His brother Liam was one of four Real IRA leaders found liable by a civil court for the 1998 bombing of Omagh in which 29 people were killed.

Campbell was arrested in 2008 in Vilnius when he met a Lithuanian agent posing as an arms dealer.

Citing an intelligence service witness, prosecutors insisted Campbell enquired about explosives to blast a bullet-proof government car.

The Real Irish Republican Army broke with the Provisional IRA in 1997 over its support for a peace deal with London.

© AFP 2013.

Additional reporting by Sinéad O’Carroll

Read: Irishman found guilty of attempted arms smuggling for Real IRA

Related: Ireland, Britain not helping in Real IRA arms case: Lithuania

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