By Chris Thornton
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble told the London High Court Tuesday that there was "not a single scrap or shred of truth" in allegations made against him in the Sean McPhilemy book "The Committee."
Trimble began testifying in a libel trial at the London High Court this week, one of a number of prominent Northern Ireland Protestants who came to court to deny being members of "The Committee," an alleged conspiracy to murder Catholics.
Trimble and the other witnesses appeared in defense of the Sunday Times newspaper, which is being sued by documentary filmmaker and author Sean McPhilemy for describing his original TV program on the committee as a hoax.
"To say that I was knowingly associating with and assisting people responsible for the murder of my constituents is grossly offensive to me and would be extremely damaging but for the fact that I have not met anybody in Northern Ireland who takes this book seriously," Trimble told the court.
Trimble said that Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had never raised the allegations in the book with him.
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"If they believed it, I think they might very well have put them to me," Trimble said. "These allegations have never been put to me by Republicans in Northern Ireland."
The testimony forced one remarkable admission from Trevor Forbes, a retired senior RUC officer who headed the force’s Special Branch.
Forbes admitted in court that evidence pertaining to the killing of an unarmed teenager by his officers had been destroyed, and also admitted misleading John Stalker, the British police officer who investigated the killing.
Forbes was in charge of RUC Special Branch when Stalker investigated a number of shoot-to-kill incidents involving RUC officers, including the death of teenager Michael Tighe. Tighe had been shot dead at an IRA arms dump in a County Armagh hayshed, but the shooting was recorded by a secret listening device.
Under questioning from McPhilemy’s lawyer, Forbes told the court the audio tape was "wiped." He said he told Stalker that the tape did not exist, claiming he did so to protect the surveillance device.
During his testimony, Forbes denied being involved in the conspiracy outlined in McPhilemy’s documentary and in his bestselling book. He said a plot of the extent claimed by McPhilemy "just could not happen."
"The chief constable at the time was only into the force a very short time, and the deputy chief constable, Michael McAtamney, who is a very, very professional officer — and a Roman Catholic, by the way — they would not for one minute have condoned anything like this," Forbes said. "And for that to take place at the extent that was suggested in that program, there were bound to be whispers. . . . I’m saying it’s impossible."
Portadown lawyer Richard Monteith, who heads the human rights committee of the Northern Ireland Law Society, also denied belonging to the Committee.
As a member of the Orange Order, Monteith denied being anti-Catholic. He said the Order is "not anti-Catholic, but anti-Catholicism and the teachings of the Roman Catholic church.”
Monteith also admitted "foolishly" blocking a road with a tree during Drumcree protests two years ago, along with other Orangemen. He was fined £250.
McPhilemy’s lawyer, James Price, suggested it was "rather a strange thing” for a member of the legal profession’s human-rights committee to stage such a protest.
"Yes. I pleaded guilty immediately," said Monteith. "It was something I should never have done.”