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Belfast woman Christine Connor pleads guilty to terrorist offences including police murder bid

Police say 'dangerous individual' will now face justice

By Ashleigh McDonald

Belfast woman Christine Connor was told she will be sentenced next month for a number of terrorist offences, including trying to murder a police officer in a pipe bomb attack.

The 31-year old appeared at Belfast Crown Court and declined to stand when the six charges were put to her by a clerk of the court. When she was asked to enter a plea to the charges, she replied by saying: "I am not guilty, but on advice I will plead guilty."

Police described the case as "complex and unusual" involving other police forces which spanned four years. They described Connor as a "very dangerous individual".

PSNI press conference following woman charged with the attempted murder of a police officer in north Belfast

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Connor was charged with possessing explosives - namely improvised explosive devices - with intent to endanger life on May 16th, and of causing an explosion on the same date.

She was also charged with three offences arising from a pipe bomb attack on a police vehicle in the Ballysillan area of the city on May 28, 2013.

Connor, whose address cannot be disclosed due to a reporting restriction, was charged with possessing explosives - namely improvised explosive devices - with intent to endanger life on May 28, and of causing an explosion on the same date, as well as attempting to murder a police constable.

When the attempted murder charge was put to her, Connor replied: "I am most definitely not guilty of that, but on advice I will plead guilty."

She was also charged with preparing terrorist acts between February 2013 and May 2013 - namely "the acquisition and sharing of information, materials and knowledge about explosives and explosive devices" contrary to the Terrorism Act 2006. To this, she again responded "I am not guilty, but on advice I will plead guilty."

After Connor entered the pleas "on advice", Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland said he was accepting six guilty pleas to the charges levelled against her.

Defence barrister Arthur Harvey QC, representing Connor, revealed she has been diagnosed with "two serious medical complaints" which required "further diagnostic tests."

Asking that Connor be granted continuing bail ahead of next month's sentencing, Mr Harvey said his client had secured medical appointments on the NHS which "will not be facilitated within the prison."

Mr Harvey also asked that as well as medical reports, a pre-sentence report be compiled.

When he was informed by the Crown that was objection to continuing bail as it was recognised there are "medical issues that need to be clarified", Judge McFarland said these reports will be an "important aspect" in the sentencing process.

Addressing Connor, Judge McFarland branded the offences as "serious matters." Granting her bail, Connor was told by the Judge not to take this an an indication as to the sentence he will impose.

Telling her to return to the same court for sentencing on June 20, Connor was told by Judge McFarland "you are free to go now".

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes, of the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said: “This has been a hugely complex and unusual case spanning over four years and involving UK police services working together to gather evidence in order to place a very dangerous individual before the Courts.

“Christine Connor meticulously planned the attack on police officers who were attending what they thought was a genuine emergency call for help from a member of the community who was in danger in the early hours of the morning. They had arrived at a residential address on the Crumlin Road to try and help a vulnerable woman, but instead they were lured to a hoax call which ended in an attempt to murder them.

“She planned this attack over quite a period of time and used a web of deceit and lies to enlist the help of Stuart Downes, 31, from Meole Brace in Shrewsbury, who had been due to stand trial also but who died in non-suspicious circumstances in June 2016.

“Christine Connor’s deceitfulness knew no bounds and involved using a fictitious name and a profile picture that bore no resemblance to her when communicating online with Stuart Downes to plan this sickening attack on officers who were simply carrying out their core job of protecting their community.

“She had two attempts at murdering police officers on two separate dates and both involved her making hoax 999 calls to lure them to where she was hiding.

“Her first attempt did not result in injury, although the improvised explosive device did detonate. However Christine used this as a ‘trial run’ for the attack on May 28 when she threw two IEDs at officers, which resulted in my colleagues being very badly shaken but thankfully not injured.

“It is just sheer good fortune that they were not killed or seriously injured. What is clear though is the total disregard Christine had for the people within this community who also could have been seriously injured or killed. The shrapnel from the devices travelled for 35 metres and was found lodged in the homes of local people.”

A claim of responsibility for the attack on May 28, 2013 made from a Public Call Box in the Shrewsbury area formed a major part of the PSNI enquiry, police said.

“This resulted in the identification of Stuart Downes as a suspect,” explained Detective Superintendent Geddes.

“This, together with CCTV evidence obtained in the vicinity of the May 28 attack in the Crumlin Road, resulted in the identification of Christine Connor as a suspect and subsequent investigations provided the link between Stuart Downes and Christine Connor.

“Today’s outcome is the result of excellent joint working between the PSNI and West Mercia Police alongside the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit. A vast amount of evidence has been obtained from the examination of mobile telephones, computers, media devices and on line networking sites which evidenced the conspiracy between Christine Connor and Stuart Downes.

“Working together, we have disrupted the activity of a dangerous individual who will now face the rigours of the criminal justice system.”

Detective Inspector Martyn Barnes, of West Mercia Police, added: “The outcome at court today is the culmination of a significant and detailed investigation involving three UK police services. It is a positive example of how we do not work in silo and we hope this case reassures the communities we serve that we can and do work together to ensure justice is done.”

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