The court case which is believed to have led to last night’s disturbances involved the jailing of three Lurgan men for a total of 45 years after they admitted having an armour piercing mortar bomb.
Jailing 26-year-old Damien William McKenna, Gary Toman (24) and 23-year-old Sean Gerard McConville for 15 years each, Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Treacy said that “on any showing, they were all deeply implicated in the sinister events” which led to the discovery of the mortar bomb, support frame and propulsion unit in a field near Lurgan on April 5 2007.
Commenting on the recent “resurgence of extreme violent terrorist activity,” the judge declared: “Those who are seduced by the false glamour of terrorism should not allow themselves to be deluded. Upon conviction they face lengthy sentences.”
As the trio were led to the cells, the packed public gallery in court 13 at the Laganside court complex in Belfast erupted into cheers and applause with a Tricolour being held aloft as men and women shouted “up the 'Ra”.
The Lurgan trio of McKenna, from Dean's Walk, Toman, from Drumnamoe Avenue and McConville, from Kilwilkie Road were all linked to the deadly device by forensic evidence.
Their trial was due to start last week but after two days of legal wranglings, they each pleaded guilty to possessing the mortar bomb, the support frame and a propulsion unit with intent to endanger life, and the prosecution decided not to proceed on a charge of conspiring to cause an explosion.
The court was told that the device would have been ready to use once the detonating command wire was attached, with a senior forensic expert opining that it was “capable of causing severe damage to an armoured vehicle, thus inflicting injury or possible death”.
Mr Justice Treacy also heard that since February and March this year there have been dissident activities, including the recent discovery of a 600lb bomb at Forkhill, but, it was argued it would be wrong for the three ‘foot-soldiers' to be sentenced on the basis of those activities.
Defence lawyers said the three had instructed them they had been in the field in order to check and conceal the device but the judge recounted surveillance evidence which proved they had all been in the field for over half an hour.
He told the court that any acceptance of the role the defendants tried to ascribe themselves would “require an astonishing degree of naivety” and added that the only mitigating factor he could see in the case was their guilty pleas, which had been “belated”.