1. ITV Report

Witness refused to give evidence ‘over dissident threat’

Adrian Ismay died 11 days after a bomb exploded under his van in east Belfast. Credit: Family photo

A court has heard claims the brother of a man on trial for the murder of a prison officer refused to give evidence after being threatened.

Peter Robinson has been called to give evidence at the Belfast Crown Court trial of his brother Christopher Robinson, who stands accused of murdering Adrian Ismay in a bomb attack on his van.

The victim – a 52-year-old father-of-three – died 11 days after a device exploded under his vehicle near his east Belfast home in March 2016.

Christopher Robinson, 48 and from Aspen Park in Poleglass, denies murder, possessing an improvised explosive device, and providing money or property for the purposes of terrorism.

His brother Peter was ordered to appear at the hearing on Monday and, after swearing on the Bible, refused to give evidence or answer any questions on the grounds he may incriminate himself.

He also made the case that he would not be prepared to give evidence at the trial in order to protect his family, as he was in fear of a pipe bomb attack.

At the time of the murder, Peter Robinson worked at a youth hostel in west Belfast and was due to answer questions about claims he disabled the CCTV system the night before the bomb exploded and told a colleague his brother would be calling round.

It is the Crown’s case that a red Citroen C3 containing the bomb was driven by Christopher Robinson to Mr Ismay's Hillsborough Drive home - the same make and model Peter Robinson drove to work hours before the device exploded.

In the aftermath of the deadly bomb attack, both brothers were arrested and treated as suspects.

During his time in custody, Peter Robinson refused to answer questions, but gave a pre-prepared statement to police - and the contents of that statement were the subject of an application made to trial judge Mr Justice McAlinden on Tuesday.

While the Crown wanted the statement to be included as evidence, it was opposed by the defence.

After listening to submissions from both sides, Mr Justice McAlinden ruled that the statement should not be admitted as evidence.

Prior to his ruling, the judge was told that, after Peter Robinson was visited by police and told he was no longer being treated as a suspect, he was asked to give evidence at the trial.

However, he made the case that he had received a threat from people he believed to be dissident republicans who warned him not to give evidence.

Expressing concerns for his own welfare and the safety of his family, Peter Robinson spoke of a “fear of a pipe bomb being thrown through the living room window” of his home.

While the Crown argued that the inclusion of Peter Robinson’s evidence was in the interests of justice, Christopher Robinson’s barrister questioned why such an important emphasis was now being placed on the statement.

The barrister said: “The way this has been dealt with has been unusual.”

He added: “It would appear consideration was not given to this particular aspect until some considerable time after the defendant was arrested and after the witness has been arrested and after the defendant has been returned for trial, without any reliance upon this evidence.”

In his ruling, Mr Justice McAlinden spoke of the circumstances in which Peter Robinson made the statement, which he noted were at a time when Peter Robinson was “suspected of being involved in the placing of a bomb under the vehicle of Mr Adrian Ismay” and which caused the judge to question his motivation.

Saying Peter Robinson had “changed his tune” regarding the reasons he did not want to give evidence - from being in fear from dissidents to potentially incriminating himself - Mr Justice McAlinden said this was “a matter that weighs heavily on my mind”.

He then concluded: “This statement should not be admitted in this criminal trial.”

The trial continues.