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Ammo in wardrobe student's conviction upheld

By Alan Erwin

A college student jailed for having an explosive substance and ammunition at his rented border bungalow has failed in a bid to overturn his conviction.

Judges also dismissed 22-year-old Keith McConnan's appeal against the five-year term imposed on him over seizures made at the south Armagh property.

Lord Justice Weatherup said: "There is a need for deterrent sentences for those who would contribute to the infliction of terrorist acts on any society."

McConnan, originally from Kilcurry, Co Louth, had claimed to have no knowledge the items were in his possession.

He was arrested with his girlfriend Orla O'Hanlon during a police raid on their home at Tievecrom Road, Forkill in December 2013.

Searches located an industrial grinder, a Timer Power Unit and a quantity of crushed fertiliser.

A plastic bag found in a wardrobe in the couple's bedroom contained an improvised mobile phone-operated switch unit and portable power supply as well as a reloaded cartridge.

Prior to the seizures McConnan was studying for a degree course in business and psychology.

A qualified personal trainer, he was also working at a gym in Dundalk.

Following a non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court Ms O'Hanlon was acquitted last year of all terrorist-related charges she faced.

McConnan was found guilty of possessing the switch unit and cartridge in suspicious circumstances, but cleared of all other offences.

His lawyers mounted a wide-ranging challenge to the conviction and five-year sentence - half of which was to be spent in custody and half on licence.

They argued that the trial judge wrongly concluded McConnan had knowledge of the plastic bag's contents.

It was also contended that undue weight was given to some evidence in the case.

However, Lord Justice Weatherup confirmed in the Court of Appeal today that all grounds had been rejected.

Dismissing further claims that the jail term was too heavy, he said: "A sentence of five years imprisonment after conviction for possession of explosives and ammunition in suspicious circumstances cannot be aid to be wrong in principle, nor can it be aid to be manifestly excessive."

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