Selective Internment of IRA Members
PSNI chiefs are preparing a fresh directing terrorism case against the leader of the New IRA in Derry.
Thomas Ashe Mellon is the target of a specialist team involving officers from the PSNI's terrorism investigation unit (TIU) and MI5. Their orders are to bring down the 43-year-old dissident who allegedly runs the New IRA in Derry City.
Mellon has been convicted in the past of writing a note that was smuggled into IRA inmates in Maghaberry Prison.
Mellon was jailed for 15 months for having an article of use to terrorists and put on a 10-year MI5 watch-list, which is normally only reserved for senior IRA members.
After getting out of prison in 2015, he allegedly assumed control of the IRA in Derry and was a key figure in establishing the headquarters of its political wing Saoradh on Chamberlain Street in the city, from which it is now being evicted.
However, Mellon's reign could soon be at an end with the establishment of a specialist police unit with orders to charge him with directing terrorism.
Officers from the TIU are working with their counterparts in MI5 and the military's Special Reconnaissance Regiment in targeting the IRA member.
Conversations are understood to have been recorded and IRA meetings monitored, with unconfirmed reports that Saoradh's Junior McDaid house has also been bugged.
Security chiefs used a similar strategy to charge prominent republicans Colin Duffy, Alex McCrory and Harry Fitzsimmons with directing the IRA's campaign.
The trio are currently on trial before a non-jury court denying the charge.
"Mellon was high on the terrorism investigation unit's radar, but he became a priority target after the accidental killing of Lyra McKee.
"There were already covert operations in place against the IRA and these have intensified.
"Cases like this take time. They involve many hours of monitoring and recording, often with little end result, but pieced together they do create enough evidence for arrests."
Security sources say lessons have been learned since the last time Mellon was charged with directing terrorism and found not guilty by a judge.
"Admittedly the evidence against him then was weak," added the insider.
"It was more a case of hitting him with a holding charge and getting him off the streets so he couldn't cause any trouble.
"The test for prosecution this time round will be much stricter, it will take a lot more than his handwriting on a scrap of paper."
Mellon - a taxi driver by day with an address on Rathmore Road - is extremely security conscious, having served a previous prison sentence.
The New IRA riot in the Creggan area last month, which was put on for cameras filming there and led to the killing of Lyra McKee, took place on the orders of the IRA in Derry.
Mellon did allegedly sanction shots being fired at police, with one of the bullets hitting Ms McKee who was standing beside a PSNI vehicle on Fanad Drive as a spectator. Mellon is also aware that republican groups in Derry have been heavily infiltrated by informants, with several members of the IRA jailed following police intelligence-led operations.
Because of this, he keeps a tight circle of friends, with his closest confidants being veteran dissident Fergal Melaugh, who is in his 60s, and Kieran McCool (51), named in court as being a "key member" of the IRA.
Both men stood with Mellon outside Junior McDaid House when Ms McKee's friends protested by putting red handprints on its wall.
Also standing with arms folded outside the building was tattooed dissident Gary Hayden.
The 46-year-old was among 11 New IRA supporters, including Mellon, convicted last week of taking part in an illegal Easter 2018 parade through the Creggan.
They were videoed by police wearing berets, sunglasses and combat fatigues with scarves covering their mouths while marching in the estate.
The demonstration led to trouble, with teenage rioters hurling petrol bombs at PSNI vehicles.
Mellon and Hayden were fined £750 each, as was Saoradh spokesman Joe Barr (30) and convicted IRA bomber Jason Ceulemans (47), who was caught in 2012 with a rocket launcher in a car.
Ceulemans was jailed for five years for possessing explosives, and having been released in 2017, is on licence until 2022.
He remains a free man despite being convicted last week of taking part in an illegal parade in support of the IRA.
Also convicted of taking part in the march was William Martin McDonnell (32), who was caught by prison staff smuggling alleged IRA leader Thomas Mellon's handwritten terror note into IRA inmates at Maghaberry jail.
He was sentenced to one year.
Ex-Provo Christy O'Kane (45) was also fined £750 for his role in the Creggan IRA display.
In 2008, he was sentenced to 10 years after walking into a PSNI station and confessing to involvement in five IRA shootings and bombings that took place between 1993 and 1994.
Because the offences took place before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, O'Kane had to serve two years behind bars.