Suzanne Breen
Sunday World
**Via Newshound

Masked gunmen last week accused Tommy Crossan, the Continuity IRA’s former Belfast commander, of being a British agent. They also claimed he’d carried out unauthorised robberies, and had stolen hundreds of thousands of pounds from the terror group.

“Get out of Ireland or be killed,” they warned him. But last night, Crossan told the Sunday World: “I’m going nowhere. My conscience is clear. I’m no tout and never would be. It goes against everything I believe.

“I haven’t stolen Continuity IRA money and I haven’t been involved in robberies. These liars are trying to criminalise me and drive me from my home. But I’m here to stay.”

Despite the death threat from his former comrades, Crossan (40) walked openly through the streets of his native West Belfast sporting a tattoo on his right arm, ‘Only God can judge me’.

Posing for photographs at a republican mural, the unemployed-father-of-four said: “I was born and bred in St James, off the Falls. Apart from my years in jail as a POW, I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not running away now.”

Two years ago, CIRA murdered PSNI constable Stephen Carroll in Lurgan. It has since been riven with splits. Last week, Sunday World was taken to a secret location in Belfast where three masked men appeared – two armed with hand-guns. They said they represented the group’s leadership.

They read out a statement claiming Crossan had been court-martialled, found guilty of ‘crimes’ and expelled from CIRA. They warned he’d be executed if he didn’t flee the country.

One of the gunmen stated: “I’d love to put him down a hole.” The second gunman said the leadership was wrong to give Crossan the chance to leave Ireland alive: “If it was up to me, I’d put a bullet I his head and leave him like a teabag by the side of the road.”

But Crossan told the Sunday World: “I’m not afraid. The people who threatened me are clowns and criminals operating to a British agenda. They aren’t soldiers of any republican army. They don’t even have the courage to show their faces. I’m here now in front of you. I’m not hiding behind any mask.”

Minutes after Sunday World spoke to Crossan, a man who said he was the Dublin spokesman for CIRA’s Army Council appeared. He stated: “The people who threatened Tommy don’t represent us.

“They were expelled from the army for their own dirty deeds. If anything happens to Tommy Crossan, the Continuity IRA will retaliate. Let his enemies be under no illusion – we won’t stand idly. Tommy Crossan wasn’t court-martialled by us. That’s an invention by a small bunch of Belfast criminals.”

Crossan said that hours before the death threat was revealed in Sunday World, the PSNI had summoned him to Grosvenor Road station: “They told me they’d intelligence that dissident republicans were going to murder me.”

The three masked men had accused Crossan of “setting up robbery squads” and using the proceeds to line his own pockets rather than buy guns for CIRA. They claimed he’d orchestrated tiger kidnapping and robbed local bookies, shops and cafes, including small businesses owned by ex-prisoners.

Crossan said: “It’s all lies. I hardly ever leave the house. If I’ve stolen hundreds of thousands, why have I a very ordinary lifestyle? I haven’t a pot to piss in. As far as I’m aware, no court martial was held and I wasn’t found guilty of anything.

“If there was a court martial, these thugs – who represent nobody but themselves- must have held it in secret. They don’t have the balls to put their allegations to my face. What sort of justice is that? They’re intent on destroying me and my name.”

Crossan claimed his accusers were trying to turn other groups like the Real IRA and independent republicans against him: “The republican community will decide who is telling the truth. I’ve every confidence they’ll make the right choice.”

Crossan denied claims he’d pocketed £8,500 for himself that CIRA had secured from blackmailing a young Belfast businessman who was drug-dealing.

The three masked men had claimed Crossan was an informer who had been spotted with his handlers at Shaw’s Bridge. They said the allegation was raised at a support meeting for republican prisoners in Belfast earlier this year.

They claimed when Crossan was challenged about the alleged sighting, “he turned white and never returned to another prisoner’s meeting”. Crossan told Sunday World: “Last year, I was told by police that a newspaper was about to print an article saying I’d been meeting police in Belfast and my life was in danger.

“I was up-front with other republicans and told them what the cops had said. The allegation was untrue – I’ve never secretly met police. But it’s been circulated by the Provos who want to discredit me and cause splits among dissident republicans.”

Crossan acknowledged he’d stopped attending prisoners’ meetings earlier this year “but because of all the back-stabbing going on around the prisoners’ issue – not because anybody called me a tout”.

He denied any dealings with MI5: “Like every other republican, I want the Brits out of Ireland. Informers are traitors – they’re the lowest of the low.”

Crossan served five years in Maghaberry for a 1999 gun attack on Woodbourne RUC station. He was the CIRA prisoners’ commander in the jail where he was regularly assaulted by loyalists. In 2008, he received a suspended sentence for involvement in a plot to extort £50,000 from a Dungannon businessman.

Crossan rejected claims from his accusers that when he was previously CIRA’s Belfast commander, he’d ordered that weapons be lifted from arms’ dumps across the city and stored centrally in another CIRA member’s flat – where they were swiftly seized by police. “I never gave any such order,” he said.

He also denied that when previously Belfast commander, he had “run CIRA into the ground” by banning attacks on the security forces. “If CIRA was inactive then, it was because it was engaged in a building process and wasn’t ready for military attacks,” he said.

Crossan insisted that his paramilitary activity was “very much in the distant past” and he was now “purely a political activist”.

August 8, 2011

This article appeared in the August 7, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.