Belfast Telegraph

Covert tapes reveal dissident plans to kill police, court told

Alleged dissident republicans were covertly recorded during “chilling” discussions about attacks on police, targeting of Catholics and weapon capabilities, the High Court has heard.

Northern Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions also claimed they involved another man at a suspected training camp because he had no criminal record.

Barra McGrory QC appeared in person at the bail application due to the perceived seriousness of the legal issues raised in the case.

Gavin Joseph Coney (35), of Gortichashel Road, Omagh, Co Tyrone, denies charges of preparation of terrorist acts, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life or property, and attending a place used for terrorist training. He is alleged to have been at a camp in Formil Wood, close to his home, on March 30 when 200 rifle rounds were fired.

It has been claimed that balloons were pinned to trees as targets, and that only 15 shell cases were recovered due to a deliberate attempt to cleanse the area.

Searches of his house were said to have recovered a legally-held rifle, silencer, ammunition, balaclavas, dark jackets and gloves.

Part of the prosecution case centres on a surveillance operation which led to conversations between two co-accused being recorded on other occasions.

Discussions between Sharon Rafferty (37), from Cavana Linn, Pomeroy, and Sean Kelly (46), from Duneane Crescent, Toomebridge, allegedly refer to firearms training, the penetrative power of a .22 rifle, and walking up to people and putting nine rounds in them.

A previous court was told conversations referred to Constable Ronan Kerr’s murder and the negative publicity of killing a police officer. Reference was also allegedly made to the January 2010 car bombing in which Constable Peader Heffron was critically injured and lost a leg. One of those recorded was said to have stated: “Heffron went like a dream.”

Coney is not accused of being involved in those discussions.

But in one of the most drawn-out applications in recent years, lawyers on both sides argued about whether a suspect with a clear record should be denied bail because the type of alleged crimes carry a risk of re-offending.

Defence counsel Mark Mulholland QC stressed that Coney is still presumed innocent.

Dealing with the right to liberty, he said: “It's the stereotyping of anyone who remotely may have an affiliation with dissident republican groups that contravenes the very spirit and essence of Article 5 (of the European Convention on Human Rights).”

But Mr McGrory claimed Coney can be linked to the co-accused and disputed explanations given for the alleged events in the forest.

Mr McCrory detailed the range of issues discussed in the recordings of the other suspects.

He said there were references to targets, and “whether or not there should be a policy of targeting Catholics”.

He added: “These are very chilling comments which would reveal the nature of the activity that was going on in the forest, on the prosecution submission, on the day in which this applicant attended with the two people involved in those conversations.”

Mr Justice Maguire reserved his decision on granting bail.

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