Belfast Telegraph

Dissident republican 'footsoldier' is jailed for bid to smuggle arms haul across border

By John Cassidy

A man caught with a pipe bomb, guns and ammunition during an undercover police operation has been given a 10-year sentence.

Nathan Hastings (21), from Strandowen Drive in Rathfoyle, Londonderry, was described as a "footsoldier'' who was helping dissident republicans move the weapons across the border.

Sentencing the father-of-one at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Piers Grant said Hastings would spend five years in jail and another five years on supervised licence.

The court heard that the would-be lawyer was caught during an "intelligence-led'' police operation on April 12 last year.

The former spokesman for the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in Derry had pleaded guilty to possession of a pipe bomb, pistols and assorted ammunition with intent to endanger life.

A prosecution lawyer told the court that Hastings was held after police stopped a Citroen Xsara he was driving in Derry. A bag containing the bombs and guns was found in a subsequent search.

Among the items discovered was a pipe bomb made of a metal flask, small amounts of propellant and and a fuse. A Walther X-esse .22 pistol and magazine, two modified 9mm handguns, 31 shotgun cartridges, 138 rounds of ammunition and 95 black cartridges containing steel ball bearings were also inside in the vehicle.

Asked by Judge Grant if the weapons had the potential to kill, the prosecutor said they had.

The lawyer added that there was clearly "logistical planning involved'' in the operation. But he said the Crown accepted Hastings was not involved in this and had "been under the influence of more experienced individuals". The court was told police did not believe the explosives and weapons were for immediate use, but were in the process of being "transported across the border for safe-keeping for future use''.

Describing Hastings as a "footsoldier'', the prosecution added: "This was the humdrum, everyday activity which requires items to be moved.''

Defence barrister Gavan Duffy QC told Judge Grant that Hastings "was not acting under duress or coercion" when he was caught and that he accepts he committed the crime voluntarily.

Mr Duffy added that shortly after the defendant was remanded in custody, he received notification from the University of Ulster at Magee accepting him to study for a law degree.

He also pointed out that until Hastings was arrested, he had involved himself in politics and had told one newspaper he "opposed the use of arms and bullets and didn't want anyone to die''.

Mr Duffy also told how Hastings wanted to pursue his studies in prison and resume his political work after his release.

But judge Grant said: "If he is now saying he has turned his back on violence, the proof of the pudding is the eating on that one.''

Handing down the sentence, the judge added that although Hastings' DNA had not been found on the weapons and explosives, it was clear he "had been trusted by other people of influence'' to transport the cache cross the border into Derry.

Describing the offences as "serious'', he also warned the cache posed a risk to the public and said many innocent people and police officers had suffered because of dissident republican activity.

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