Published Monday, 27 February 2012
Coleraine Courthouse heard that one of the accused in the case was a supergrass. (© UTV)
Back in the autumn of 2010, 13 men and two women were arrested in Portstewart and Londonderry and all of them were charged in connection with an alleged criminal operation to supply drugs.
They have already appeared in court several times over the past year-and-a-half but, unknown to any of the defence lawyers, one of the accused had already become what's known as an assisting offender.
Portstewart man Shaun McManus is one of the defendants, but is helping the case against his 14 co-accused.
Described in Coleraine Courthouse as "a supergrass", his role was known to police and the Public Prosecution Service but they kept it secret - prompting defence lawyers to accuse the PPS of misleading the courts, peddling misinformation and being mendacious to judges.
Defence lawyers have previously expressed concerns about how long it is taking prosecutors to proceed with this case.
They have said the PPS have blamed delays on the huge amount of evidence, the need to examine laptop computers, and the requirement for forensic accountancy reports.
A PPS lawyer said the case in question was difficult and complex and that prosecutors had to proceed carefully to protect the informer and his family.
But the existence of the supergrass only emerged by accident, when Shaun McManus was spotted entering a police station.
One lawyer said: "The history of supergrass trials in Northern Ireland showed that using a supergrass infected an entire prosecution, and we're seeing the uglier side of that here whereby the courts are being misled."
Defence teams have demanded the case should now proceed quickly or else be dismissed.
The judge, Mr Justice Richard Wilson, ordered prosecutors to be ready for a preliminary enquiry in four weeks' time or said he may take a course of action.
© UTV News