A VETERAN of the Falklands conflict was jailed by a German court for six-and-a-half years yesterday after being found guilty of taking part in a bungled Provisional IRA mortar attack on a British Army barracks.
Michael Dickson (39) shook his head in disbelief when an interpreter translated the prison sentence.
Barbara Klawitter, his defence lawyer, had argued throughout the seven-week trial in Celle that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement made the trial irrelevant; the British authorities, she said, were not interested in Dickson.
"He is now the only Irish freedom fighter left in jail," she said.
Judge Wolfgang Siolek ruled, however, that a serious offence had been committed on German soil and there was enough evidence to show that the intention was murder. "The attack could have caused many deaths," he said.
The mortar bomb attack took place on June 28, 1996, when three missiles were fired directly at Quebec Barracks in Osnabruck.
Since the offence was committed before the Good Friday Agreement, Dickson could choose to serve his sentence in the North. To do that, he would have to admit to committing the offence and to Provisional IRA membership. Then he could be eligible for release after about two years.
Dickson, a former Royal Engineers sapper who had grown up on British Army bases in Germany, was a member of a five-strong gang of IRA men. The German authorities still have an arrest warrant out against two other suspected members of the gang: Roisin McAliskey, the daughter of the civil rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey, and James Corry. Both are thought to be living in Ireland.
German police have still not established the identity of the other two members of the gang.
They had rented a holiday home in northern Germany and collected the materials needed for the attack on the barracks. Dickson helped to adapt a Ford Transit van as a launch platform for the mortars and drove it into position on the wooded perimeter of the camp.
The aim, Judge Siolek found, may have been concentrated more on establishing a Provisional IRA presence on the European mainland than on massive killing. Even so, the improvised mortars contained more than 80kg of explosive. Two fell short of the perimeter fence and failed to detonate.
The third flew into the compound and exploded a few yards away from the petrol station. If it had hit the pumps, the explosion would have been fatal: the soldiers' mess was near by. About 150 soldiers were in the barracks at the time.
"Through his involvement, the accused made himself guilty of an undetermined number of counts of attempted murder," the judge said.
Dickson, who was born in Greenock, Scotland, told the court at the outset of the trial that he had no experience in explosives. In the Army he had learnt to build walls and bridges.
He served mainly in Germany, and did six months in the Falklands, but never in the North. After leaving the Army he worked as a delivery driver, as an airport security officer and in a pub in Ireland.
He refused to make any detailed statement - though he denied IRA membership from the outset - and neither the prosecutor nor the judge shed much light on his motivation. For much of the trial Dickson, looked bored and wore an 'anti-fascism' T-shirt.
He was arrested in December last year at Prague airport on the basis of the German warrant, and extradited shortly afterwards. Ms Klawitter said she would not appeal but made clear Dickson was counting on an amnesty. (© The Times, London)