10/11/2009

Protection For NI Judges Increased

Armed police are protecting some of Ulster's top judges around the clock amid a heightened threat from dissident republicans, it has been revealed.

Security measures were stepped-up last month after terrorists managed to track down the location of a serving judge and his wife, who were dining in Limavady.

The pair escaped from the restaurant unharmed before police arrived at the scene.

However, the incident prompted a senior member of the judiciary to write to colleagues warning them of the threat's 'upwards trajectory'.

Dozens of judge have now had their 24-hour armed protection restored, with other members of the judiciary being advised to only leave their homes when accompanied by security personnel.

It is believed 70 full-time PSNI officers have been drafted in to provide close protection to senior court staff.

Security guidance has also been issued to lower-profiled judiciary workers.

Last week the Independent Monitoring Commission said the threat posed by dissidents was at its highest in six years.
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A report by the commission suggested Real IRA and Continuity IRA members were coordinating efforts, with the help of experienced former-Provos.

In March, Real IRA gunmen opened fire outside an Antrim army barrack killing two soldiers.

Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23, and Patrick Azimkar, 21, had stepped out of the Massereene base to collect pizzas.

Less than 48 hours later a Continuity IRA sniper killed a serving policeman in Craigavon. Constable Stephen Paul Carroll became the first fatality of a sustained campaign by dissidents to murder a PSNI officer.

Over a dozen other assassination attempts have been made against serving constables since.

Three judges were murdered during the 1970s and 1980s by the IRA. Rory Conaghan in 1974, William Doyle in 1983 and Lord Justice Sir Maurice Gibson in 1987.

Terrorist gunmen also killed Lord Justice Gibson's wife Cecily, and Mary Travers - the daughter of Judge William Travers, who was fired upon while leaving a Catholic church.

Resident magistrate William Staunton was murdered by the IRA in 1972, followed by the killing of magistrate Robert McBirney two years later.

(PR/GK)

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