DERRY, DIECI ANNI A TRE UOMINI PER TRASPORTO DI ESPLOSIVI
Three men from Londonderry who were stopped in a car which contained a viable anti-personnel weapon that had the “potential to kill or seriously injure” have each been handed a 10-year sentence.
Jason Lee Anna Ceulemans, 42, from Lecky Road, Damien Harkin, 48 and from Westland Avenue and 49-year old Neil Christopher Hegarty from Sackville Street each pleaded guilty last month to a charge of possessing the device to enable some other person to endanger life or cause serious injury to property.
All three were handed a ten-year sentence, five years of which will be spent in custody with the remaining half to be spent on supervised licence upon their release from prison.
Passing sentence, Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland QC told the court that while he accepted their pleas on the grounds they were transporting the device, he said: “This was a particularly effective device designed to pierce armoured vehicles and kill or cause serious harm to the occupants.”
The trio also admitted a charge of possessing an item likely to be of use in an act of terrorism, namely the possession of a walkie-talkie radio.
For this offence, they were handed a concurrent four-year sentence and will also be the subject of a notification requirement for 10 years, under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008.
Crown prosecutor Terence Mooney QC told Belfast Crown Court that the car with all three men on board was stopped in the Westway area of Creggan on 3 December 2012.
The trio were all wearing dark clothing, with Hegarty and Harkin both wearing a pair of woollen gloves over latex gloves.
Hegarty was also in possession of a walkie-talkie radio, which he later claimed belonged to one of his children.
When police searched the Renault Megane, they discovered a rucksack in the rear foot well, which contained a “viable Explosive Fired Projectile”.
An Army technical officer was called to the scene and after examining the device, it was established there was a commercial detonator inserted into a quantity of high explosives.
The rucksack also contained an improvised firing pack.
Mr Mooney QC said the device was “ready and able to be used.”
The prosecutor told the court: “This device is an anti-personnel weapon, designed to pierce armour plating.
“Had it been successfully fired at a police vehicle, it had the potential to kill or seriously injure any occupants of the target vehicle.”
The prosecutor said that during interviews, Harkin remained silent but told police his intention was to remove and destroy a dangerous item in the Creggan area of Derry.
Hegarty – who has a historical conviction of membership of a proscribed organisation which dates back to 1989 – denied being a member of a paramilitary organisation.
Ceulemans, who had been driving the car which was under police surveillance when it was stopped, refused to answer question and later adopted the same defence as his co-accused Harkin.
Revealing that the Renault which was stopped didn’t belong to any of the three men, Mr Mooney said the EFD was “sophisticated and potentially deadly”.
He told the court: “A terrorist campaign, which has involved the use of explosives, continues to pose a risk to the security forces.”
Defence barrister Mark Mulholland, representing Ceulemans, said his client’s intention was never to kill or use the device, but that he “went with others to transport the device, having been asked”.
The barrister added the father-of-three had no criminal record, a good work ethic and has played a positive role within the community.
Martin O’Rourke QC, representing father-of-four Damien Harkin, said his client’s plea was on the basis of “enabling others to use the device”, adding that while Harkin knew there was “some form of explosive” in the rucksack, the “exact nature of the device was not known to him”.
Mr O’Rourke also spoke of Harkin’s voluntary work with local youths in the Bogside area of the city, as well as his involvement in cross-community work.
Hegarty’s barrister Barry Macdonald QC acknowledged that while his client had a conviction for membership of an illegal organisation, it dated back 25 years to a “wholly different era”.
Describing this incident as “completely isolated on his part”, Mr Macdonald said there was “no question” that the father-of-three and grandfather would be involved in similar offending in the future.
A spokesman from Serious Crime Branch said: “We should all be thankful that those in possession of these items were prevented from using them and the actions of police undoubtedly saved lives. Police will continue to combat the threat posed by dissident individuals and groups who plan to use violence to further their agendas.
“We would encourage people in the community to continue to work with us to reduce the threat posed by such reckless individuals so that we can bring them before the courts and keep our communities safe.”