Belfast Telegraph

Mother and 'danger to public' accomplice jailed for setting up dissident training camp

By Chris Kilpatrick

A mother-of-three who helped set up a dissident republican terror camp and was recorded discussing attacks on the security forces has been jailed.

Sharon Rafferty was one of four republicans convicted in relation to the makeshift camp and firing range, which was uncovered in a secluded forest outside Omagh, Co Tyrone, in March 2012.

She was sentenced to eight years yesterday, half of which will be spent on licence.

The 39-year-old's accomplice, Sean Kelly (49), was imprisoned for an indeterminate term and told he would serve at least five years in prison.

The previous day, two co-defendants – brothers Terence and Gavin Coney – were sentenced to more than five years for their part in the training facility.

Police welcomed the terms handed down to all of those involved and said their covert operation had saved lives.

Rafferty and Kelly were secretly recorded by the security forces discussing weapons, the targeting of Catholic police officers, personal details of the governor of Maghaberry and the funding of dissident terror groups.

During one conversation, they were recorded saying a booby-trap bomb attack which almost killed Catholic PSNI officer Peadar Heffron in 2010 "went like a dream".

Rafferty, from Cabhan Aluinn in Pomeroy, and Kelly, from Duneane Crescent in Toomebridge, appeared together in the dock of Laganside Court in Belfast yesterday.

She had previously admitted to possessing a .22 Walther rifle and ammunition in suspicious circumstances on March 30, 2012, and attending a place used for terrorist training on the same date.

She also pleaded guilty to preparing or helping others in the preparation of an improvised firing range.

Rafferty faced a further two charges, including one for being a member of the IRA.

However, prosecutors asked that these charges be left on the books.

A charge of directing terrorism – making Rafferty the first woman in Northern Ireland's history to face such an accusation – was dropped.

Kelly admitted possession of a weapon in suspicious circumstances, attending a place for terrorist training, collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists, possessing articles for use in terrorism and preparation of terrorist acts.

The court was told he had been jailed for 24 years in 1993 in relation to the attempted murder of an RUC constable, and then released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Belfast Recorder judge David McFarland said Kelly and Rafferty were not "two 18-year-olds discussing something frivolous".

He told how he believed both had an organisational role in the Omagh training camp.

"It's clear the purpose of this exercise was to test the suitability of the weapon for other purposes," the judge said.

"Ultimately, the purpose would have been to make people proficient on the use of weapons... for terrorist purposes."

Judge McFarland also said of the recordings featuring Kelly and Rafferty that "essentially these were confessions on your part".

"It's the first time I've come across a case with detailed and prolonged recordings of various conversations, and they do give an insight into the thoughts of you, Kelly, and you, Rafferty," he added.

The judge told the court Kelly was "in a different category" to the other three and that he was the only defendant the judge deemed a danger to the public.

Judge McFarland acknowledged that while the conversations contained elements of "bragging, bravado and exaggeration" and of Kelly trying to impress Rafferty and vice versa, it remained clear that they had expressed support for terrorist acts, with Kelly "indicating his own involvement".

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes welcomed the sentences and vowed the security forces would use a wealth of resources to capture dissident terrorists.

"I have no doubt that lives have been saved by this proactive operation," he added.

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