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McPhilemy counsel wants Trimble to testify in D.C. court

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST – U.S. lawyers acting for Sean McPhilemy, author of the controversial book "The Committee", will begin legal action next week aimed at forcing the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, to answer questions under oath.

"The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland" claims that a conspiracy of RUC officers, businessmen, unionists, a clergyman, solicitors, UDR men and loyalists was formed to murder Catholics and nationalists between 1989 and 1996.

Two Northern Ireland businessmen named in the first edition of the book, car-dealer brothers David and Albert Prentice of Portadown, are suing McPhilemy and publishers Roberts Rinehart in a Washington D.C. court in a $100 million libel action.

Lawyers acting for McPhilemy are seeking replies from Trimble after he made statements relating to the case in the House of Commons and in a letter to Roberts Rinehart.

A paperback edition of the book, reportedly containing new allegations, will be published in the U.S. on May 24. It will not be available in Ireland or Britain for legal reasons, but can be ordered on the internet.

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Russell Smith, Roberts Rinehart’s attorney, said the company would be seeking to put Trimble under oath to answer questions about his criticisms of "The Committee".

"Trimble has injected himself into the case by writing a letter to Roberts Reinhart demanding that they not publish the book. He also denigrated the allegations in the book from the floor of the House of Commons.

"For these reasons we want to question him, as a hostile witness or otherwise. He has openly defended individuals named as members of the Committee in the book, including known terrorists, and evidently has relevant information about them."

The process by which Roberts Rinehart is seeking to compel Trimble to answer questions under oath is governed by an international convention signed in The Hague, to which both the U.S. and U.K. are signatories.

Smith’s law firm will first issue a subpoena which can be served on Trimble. Should the First Minister Designate ignore this, then a "Letter of Request" will be sought in district of Columbia Superior Court, where the Prentices are pursuing their legal action.

The court can hear challenges from lawyers for either the Prentice brothers or Trimble, but the limited legal recourse at this stage is to argue that Trimble has no relevant information.

This, in turn, can be counter-challenged because of Trimble’s statements in the Commons and letter to Roberts Reinhart.

"Trimble is on the record defending people named in "The Committee" as respected leaders of the community. He is also on record attacking the book as ‘a tissue of lies’ said Smith.

"He has stated he has information that those named in "The Committee" have no connection to loyalist killings.

"Trimble clearly has information which is of relevance to this legal action and we will be seeking to obtain answers to our legitimate questions".

If the D.C. court ends up having to issue the "Letter of Request", it will be forwarded to the British government under the terms of the Hague Convention.

The British government is required to send the "Letter of Request" to the appropriate court to compel the person named to answer the questions under oath.

The limited grounds for a legal challenge at this point would be that the person named has no connection to the dispute. Another critical issue could be whether the Prentice brothers are public figures.

"When the First Minister of a country sends letters to a publisher defending certain individuals, it’s a fair assumption to say they are likely to be public figures," said Smith who added that Trimble might be deposed as early as July in either Lisburn in Northern Ireland, Trimble’s area of residence, or London.

Meanwhile, the Prentice brothers lost a significant legal action in the D.C. court where they are pressing their case against McPhilemy and Roberts Rinehart. They were seeking access to McPhilemy’s notes, memoranda and other documents.

Judge Geoffrey M. Alprin, in an 18-page judgement, invoked the 1992 D.C. journalists’ shield law in denying the Prentices access to McPhilemy’s files. Judge Alprin ruled that there was no overriding public interest in the disclosure of the contents of the files and that "the public’s interest in the receipt of news and information," was more important.

Alprin rejected legal arguments that the law should not apply to non-resident journalists. This is the first case in which the parameters of the D.C. shield law have been interpreted in court.

McPhilemy, meanwhile, has been deposed by attorneys for the Prentice brothers and is expected to give evidence for a week beginning June 7. But in a move unlikely to give the Prentice brothers much cause for relief, the court has ordered them to pay McPhilemy’s air fare, hotel bills and to pay the author per diem expenses.

McPhilemy’s position, meanwhile, has received political backing from Congressman Peter King, co-chairman of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, and indirectly by a recent statement from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

In an affidavit, Rep. King said McPhilemy’s book deserved the fullest protection. "It has become a vital document in connection with worldwide demands for re-organization/abolition of the Northern Irish police force known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary," King stated.

Moynihan linked the murder of Rosemary Nelson to McPhilemy’s allegations in "The Committee". Nelson, killed on March 15, was McPhilemy’s legal advisor in Northern Ireland and a witness in his case.

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