VIDEO: How Michael Campbell was snared by an elaborate sting
THE conviction of Michael Campbell in a Lithuanian court today marks the culmination of an elaborate international "sting" involving the police and security services of three nations.
Operation Uncritical thwarted an attempt by the Real IRA to acquire guns and explosives which security services believe would have been used to mount a deadly terror campaign in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland.
At its heart was a courageous undercover agent who for years risked his life to provide his MI5 handlers with vital intelligence about the activities of dissident republicans' plans.
The agent, who was referred to in court as "Robert Jardine", was ostensibly a legitimate businessman based in southern England dealing in imports and exports.
But he also had an illicit sideline in smuggling cigarettes from Eastern Europe - and it was that which caught the eye of the security service and led him into a dangerous world of terrorist intrigue.
At the time the Real IRA (RIRA) was using the lucrative trade in contraband cigarettes to fund its terrorist activities and in late 2002 Jardine was recruited as an agent by MI5 with a view to disrupting their operations.
Two years later however, the case unexpectedly took on a dramatic new dimension when RIRA asked Jardine whether his contacts in Eastern Europe could help them acquire the weapons they needed as well.
Initially Jardine was non-committal. But over the next 18 months - carefully directed by MI5 - he began to lay the trail of deception which gradually drew in the terrorists.
The court was told that in January 2005 he handed over a price list, written in Cyrillic script, to a contact.
The following July, during a legitimate business trip to Poland, Jardine and the contact were said to have crossed the border into Lithuania where Jardine introduced her to his supposed weapons man - "Tomas".
In fact Tomas was working for the Lithuanian security service, the VSD - the first in a cast of "role-players" deployed to convince the RIRA that the offer of weapons was real.
The RIRA responded by presenting Jardine with the first of two hand-written shopping lists of weapons they wanted to buy - including sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, hand grenades, detonators and Semtex plastic explosives.
However, with no further follow-up from the RIRA, the operation appeared to have run into the sand - leaving Jardine to complain to the republicans that they had damaged his relations with Tomas.
Then, in late 2006, in a further unexpected twist, another RIRA man, Seamus McGreevy (who has since died), moved to revive the arrangement. Jardine responded by saying he would provide the introductions but the republicans would have to cut their own deal. The "sting" was back on.
Throughout his dealings with the RIRA, Jardine was left in no doubt that he would pay with his life if his true role was discovered.
On one occasion he was taken to meet some leading RIRA figures in South Armagh. After being transferred from one car to another he came to the vehicle intended to take him to his final destination - a blacked out van.
When the door was opened he saw that the interior was lined with bubble wrap while lying on the floor was a shovel.
Jardine was convinced that he was being taken to dig own grave - in fact it was a gruesome test of his nerve by the RIRA men to see if would actually step into the van.
It was around this time that Michael Campbell entered the story. The brother of Liam Campbell - one of the men held responsible for the 1998 Omagh bombing in a landmark civil action who is currently fighting extradition to Lithuania over his alleged role in the arms plot - he was chosen by the RIRA to go the Baltic state to meet Tomas.
On August 29 2007, Michael Campbell and another alleged RIRA associate travelled to a lodge deep in the Lithuanian countryside belonging to the supposed arms dealer. There they were given their first chance to test some of the guns and explosives.
The next day they were introduced to a second dealer - whom the two Irishmen quickly nicknamed "Rambo" - who was to provide them with the actual weapons they wanted. Like Tomas, however, Rambo was in reality working for the VSD.
After a further demonstration of firepower, Campbell and his colleague were hooked, agreeing to pay a 5,000 euro deposit on a consignment, including explosives, detonators and timers.
Afterwards an excited Campbell was secretly recorded telling his associate: "Look at it this way, for one of them and one of them you have a bomb - for f****** a hundred quid.
"F*** me. You imagine us getting over to England if you'd ten of them and ten clocks in a holdall. You imagine, with a six-hour timer we could be over to London and back.
"Just tick, tick, tick - gone. Leave it anywhere."
That October, Campbell met Rambo again in Marbella in southern Spain. This time the RIRA man said he wanted to take delivery of a first instalment of weapons - including two rocket propelled grenades as well as the explosives - against the 5,000 euro deposit.
They also discussed arranging transport to Ireland for the arsenal, as well providing weapons training for RIRA operatives.
On January 21 2008, Campbell travelled out to Lithuania with his wife to inspect his purchase and finalise the arrangements. That evening the couple dined with Rambo who the following day took Campbell to a lock-up garage where the weapons were stashed.
A hidden camera secretly filmed the encounter as Campbell examines one of the detonators and asks whether they would be "good for booby traps".
"They would be good for under a car, wouldn't they?" he says. "Anchored to the wheel and then the car goes round - bang."
Campbell was also filmed paying a further 1,000 euro deposit for a powerful Barrett sniper rifle - the type of weapon used to kill Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, the last British soldier to die at the hands of the Provisional IRA in 1997.
When Rambo demands what it would be used for - saying he was not prepared to sell it just "to shoot roe deer or wild boar" - Campbell tells him: "No, no, we will be shooting from across borders. The border. You know, from one side to the other."
Asked who the target would be, Campbell replies simply "Brits". Campbell is then induced by another role-player to admit that he is with the IRA. At that point the sting was complete and the trap was sprung with Campbell's arrest.