When Rupert was approached by MI5 and the FBI to give evidence against Michael McKevitt his response was .” tell me what to do, make it worth my while and as long as the benefit overrides risk in my view it will be done to the best of my ability.”
In November 2000, Rupert was told by the FBI/MI5 what the charges against McKevitt would be – directing of an illegal organisation and membership. This was two months before Rupert came to Ireland to make his statement to the Gardai against McKevitt and four months before McKevitt was arrested.
On 9th January 2001 David Rupert made a statement to the Gardai (Irish police) in Dublin. He said many things in his statement carefully using the correct language that would strengthen the inevitable charges of Directing and Membership. He told the Gardai that Michael McKevitt had attended several IRA meetings in his company. One meeting in particular on 17th February 2000, which he identified as a meeting of the IRA army council Rupert stated that McKevitt attended it and ‘directed’ Rupert to carry out certain tasks. This date would prove to be significant during the trial.
Early in the morning of 29th March 2001 upwards of 40 members of the ERU and the National Security Branch of the Gardai arrived at the McKevitt home in Blackrock Co Louth. Some members of the team were dressed in combat gear brandishing guns. As soon as the door of the house was opened they burst in passed Michael and ran upstairs to the bedrooms where the children who now awake and frightened were ordered by them to get up. Michael was arrested and kept in the family front sitting room. Bernadette who was not arrested at that point insisted that she was allowed to telephone a family friend to come and collect the children who were shaken and crying. The house was thoroughly searched; furniture, bedding and clothing were strewn throughout each room. A number of items were removed from the house. Bernadette requested the Gardai not to disturb personal items and letters that she had belonging to her late brother Bobby Sands. However they ignored her and read each letter tossing them to one side when they had finished with them.
Bernadette was arrested shortly after the children were collected from the house. She was confined to the kitchen area of the house, a member of the Gardai who was conducting a search of the kitchen held up a small brown container in his hand and enquired “what is this”. He offered the container to Bernadette to hold. She immediately became suspicious by his manner and refused to handle the container. She called out a warning to her husband who had been brought into the kitchen by the Gardai just as he was offered the container to hold as well. It later transpired that it contained a quantity of mercury. The Gardai claimed it was found on the kitchen shelf! Michael and Bernadette refute this and claim that it had been planted by the Gardai. Interestingly, no charges were pressed against Michael or Bernadette regarding the substance. However, had the Gardai succeeded in getting Michael and Bernadette’s fingerprints onto the container this may have been a different scenario. One could pose the question that if Michael and Bernadette’s fingerprints were found on the container would Rupert’s evidence with its inherent flaws be required? If so, it almost certainly would have prevented the exposure and embarrassment of the MI5/FBI stitch-up. The answer perhaps lies in a MI5 disclosed document detailing a conversation in February 2001, (one month before the arrest of Michael), between Garda Assistant Commissioner Dermot Jennings (Rupert’s former Garda handler) and a MI5 agent.
The agent points out to Jennings where it is alleged in an e-mail by Rupert to his MI5 handler that he (Jennings) expressed indifference to terrorism in NI and was only interested in illegal activity in ROI. Jennings stated that this was untrue. Agent states that if the defence got hold of this e-mail and Jennings denied the report that would make Rupert an untrustworthy source. The agent then states that Jennings “urged that the report be removed”. The agent also states that there was a few more such “trickinesses” in the paperwork that were being addressed. The MI5 document further states that Jennings was worried about the mistakes in Rupert’s statement and that he proposed to send the MI5 agent a copy of the statement but the agent said not to send it. Between Jennings and the agent they agreed that it might be possible for the FBI to sort matters out before the AGS arrive in the U.S to take a further statement from Rupert. This report would suggest that Asst. Commissioner Jennings was working covertly with MI5 to frame Michael McKevitt.
Michael and Bernadette were taken to Balbriggan Garda station outside Dublin. A blaze of publicity appeared in the media; both Michael and Bernadette’s names and photographs were printed. While in custody, Michael was told that his arrest was a political decision. When Bernadette was told that her husband was charged, the Garda officers mocked her telling her she would no longer be able to continue with her political work now. (This was indeed proven true sometime afterward. As a result of the framing of her husband, Bernadette’s energies were diverted to campaigning on behalf of Michael. That combined with the rearing of their children single-handedly left her unable to continue with her role in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.)
On the 30th March 2001 Bernadette was released without charge. Michael was taken before the non jury Special Criminal Court (SCC) in Dublin and charged with directing the activities of an illegal organisation and membership of the same organisation namely the IRA. Three days later Michael received a document via his solicitor from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), outlining the charges against him. This document pointed out that bail would be denied for a number of reasons, principally because they claimed he hadn’t rebutted the allegations made against him in the newspapers. This was inaccurate as Michael and Bernadette had rebutted the allegations through their solicitor however the vast majority of the news media did not report the denials. In addition to this the BIRW compiled a report refuting these allegations on Michael and Bernadette’s behalf. The DPP document also stated that “an MI5 and FBI informant David Rupert would give evidence against him in any future trial”.
From the outset there was an ongoing steady stream of leaks through the media about Michael’s case. Most were complete fabrications without foundation and had been designed to promote an image of guilt to the public prior to Michael’s trial. Some reports claimed that emails had been sent between Michael and Rupert and that these would be used as evidence. Other reports claimed that there was surveillance video evidence of Michael meeting Rupert. These reports were completely false.
Prior to the original trial date Michael was contacted by his legal representatives who conveyed an offer of a deal on behalf the DPP. The offer was as follows, if Michael pleaded guilty to the membership charge, then the charge of directing terrorism would be dropped. Despite the fact that this offer would have resulted in a lesser sentence – the charge of directing terrorism carried a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, Michael refused the offer on the basis that this was an attempt by the prosecution to conceal the stitch-up and also bolster the civil case.