Belfast Telegraph

Jailed: IRA gun-runner caught with £84k jewellery heist haul

By Declan Brennan and Sonya McLean

A former IRA gun-runner who almost collapsed the peace process has been jailed for handling almost €100,000 (£84,000) worth of stolen jewellery.

Conor Claxton (41) was one of four men convicted of handling the stolen jewellery days after it had been stolen in an armed raid on a Belfast jewellers.

Claxton of Kilmore Close, Belfast, was previously imprisoned in Florida for sending guns to Ireland.

He was one of the Florida Four – the others being Anthony Smyth, Martin Mullan and Siobhan Browne – whose arms operation was first uncovered in 1999 before they were convicted in 2000. Claxton, who was declared bankrupt in 2010, received the longest sentence – four years and eight months.

The Florida gun-running operation came at a delicate period of the stalled peace process. Unionists remained unconvinced about whether the IRA ceasefire was genuine, and republicans had yet to decommission any weapons.

The discovery of the plot led unionists to believe that the IRA was intent on using the ceasefire period to prepare for a new terror campaign.

Yesterday, Claxton pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to dishonestly receiving €99,690 (£84,000) worth of stolen jewellery at Grattan Crescent, Inchicore, Dublin on July 11, 2011.

Judge Mary Ellen Ring sentenced Claxton to three and half years with the last 18 months suspended.

Detective Garda Michael Doherty told Anne Rowland, prosecuting, that a few days before they were arrested two men robbed a jewellers in Belfast at knifepoint.

Claxton later travelled from Belfast to Dublin and was trailed by gardai following a tip-off.

Claxton and Liam O'Neill (58) of Cross Guns Quay, Phibsboro, Dublin were seen trying to sell the items to a jeweller in Palmerstown but the jeweller decided not to buy them.

Gardai from the Organised Crime Unit moved in and stopped the car minutes later in Inchicore. They found the jewellery and arrested the four men in the car.

Judge Martin Nolan sentenced O'Neill and Hughes to two years in prison. He sentenced Taggart to two and half years which he suspended in full on strict conditions.

BACKGROUND

In 2000, Claxton was jailed in Florida for mailing 122 guns to the IRA. He admitted being a member of the Provos and was convicted of 39 charges including exporting weapons, illegal sale of firearms and making false statements to a firearms dealer. Claxton claimed that militant Irish-Americans forced him to buy the weapons because they feared nationalists were being left at the mercy of loyalists. After being freed from prison he was deported and returned to west Belfast.

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