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Dissident republican bomber had names of police officers and judges in Maghaberry cell, court hears

By John Cassidy

Published 07/09/2016

Connor Hughes, of Altan Close, Dunmurry
Connor Hughes, of Altan Close, Dunmurry

A search of a convicted dissident republican bomber's cell at a top security jail uncovered the names of police officers and judges, a court heard on Wednesday.

Belfast Crown Court was told that Connor Hughes (24), who is originally from Altan Close, Dunmurry, west Belfast, was eight months into an 11 year jail sentence when staff at Maghaberry Prison carried out the search.

Prosecuting barrister Ian Tannahill said prison staff conducted the search at 11.45am on October 2, 2015 when they "uncovered a list of names of 16 police officers and eight members of the judiciary''.

Mr Justice Treacy was told that the search was carried out on Hughes's cell at Roe House inside the Co Antrim prison.

"That's a part of the prison where Oglaigh na hEireaan (ONH) are held. The list was found among a number of documents, which included shopping lists for the prison tuck shop, inside an A4 pad.''

The documents were later handed over to the PSNI and the court heard that during interviews with detectives, Hughes "did not answer any questions.''

The court was told that at the time Hughes was serving an 11 year sentence handed down in February 2015 for possession of explosives with intent to endanger life or damage property.

The sentence related to a police operation when PSNI officers stopped Hughes at the junction of the Glen Road and Shaws Road in west Belfast on March 27, 2014.

Hughes was carrying a holdall and when it was searched, the bag was found to contain "a number of wires and what was thought to be a firing pack."

Officers immediately suspected this to be an improvised explosive device (IED) and Hughes was arrested under the Terrorism act.

When stopped, Hughes was wearing six top layers of clothing as well as a scarf and gloves. The court heard Hughes "refused to identify himself at the scene" and also "didn't warn officers dealing with him of the potential danger to them of the device he was carrying."

Saying the device in question was a blast-bomb type IED, the prosecutor said that when detected at the junction, the device was "fully constructed and connected, expect for the battery pack being attached at the command wire."

The prosecutor also said the device was a "a roadside bomb which would have been deployed against soft-skin vehicles or security forces in the open."

Prosecutor Ian Tannahill said that given Hughes' previous conviction, it was the Crown case that "this information and information of this type would be useful to terrorists on the outside''.

He added: "It is right to say that this list related to the names of police officers and members of the judiciary and public buildings. There was no other sensitive information, like movements or that, contained in the list.

"It would certainly give cause for any person named on the list to have a level of concern and would clearly cause them concern to be told that their names were found in these circumstances.''

Mr Tannahill told the judge it was the prosecution view that the sentencing range would have been one of between five to seven years in custody.

The prosecution lawyer pointed to a previous case of a British soldier who was jailed for four years in the 1990s for colluding with the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) in west Belfast by passing over the names of prominent republicans to target for murder.

Defence counsel Arthur Harvey QC said he disagreed with the prosecution on the sentencing range, saying Hughes' offending was "at the lower level'', adding that the sentencing range in his view was one of "two to six years''.

He also rejected a prosecution assertion that Hughes was a member of a terrorist organisation as "entirely speculative and it would be quite wrong for the court to take that as an aggravating factor in this case''.

Mr Harvey QC said that Hughes had been charged with possessing the document and "there is no link between this possession and then something further''.

The defence counsel told Mr Justice Treacy that his family had been concerned and "tried to change his views of the world and he went to Australia and spent some considerable time there.''

"However, the draw of home was much stronger and he has found himself in the current position,'' said the QC.

He added that Hughes was now using his time in prison to undertake a six year degree course in psychology and social policy.

Mr Justice Treacy was told that Hughes' earliest release from this 11 year sentence was in September 2019.

"I don't propose to sentence today. I want to review the authorities provided to me and I will pass sentence on Friday week,'' said Mr Justice Treacy.

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