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Woman (20) co-accused of running dissident bomb making factory in south Armagh home cleared of all charges

By Ashleigh McDonald

Published 04/05/2016

Orla O'Hanlon leaves Belfast Crown Court this afternoon after being cleared of all the charges against her relating to her alleged role in a so-called republican 'Bomb Factory'.
Orla O'Hanlon leaves Belfast Crown Court this afternoon after being cleared of all the charges against her relating to her alleged role in a so-called republican 'Bomb Factory'.

A 20-year old woman who faced a host of terrorist-related offences after the border home she shared with her partner was searched by police was today acquitted of charges.

Whilst Orla O'Hanlon was freed, her 21-year old partner Keith McConnan was remanded back in to custody after he was convicted of two charges.

The couple were arrested on December 18, 2013 after their rented bungalow on the Tievecrom Road in Forkhill was searched by officers acting under the Justice and Security Act.

During their search, officers located a number of items including an industrial grinder, a complete Timer Power Unit and a quantity of crushed ammonium nitrate fertiliser.

Both Ms O'Hanlon and McConnan were arrested and subsequently charged with a number of terrorist-related offences, and the couple stood trial late last year at Belfast Crown Court.

Earlier today Judge Sandra Crawford, who presided over the Diplock non-jury trial, presented her judgement on the case. She acquitted Ms O'Hanlon on all ten charges she faced, while McConnan - who originally faced nine charges - was found guilty of two offences and cleared of the other charges.

The couple were tried on a series of serious offences including possessing explosives - namely crushed ammonium nitrate based fertilizer - both with intent to endanger life, and also in suspicious circumstances.

McConnan - who admitted possessing the grinder but made the case he was acting under duress as he was under threat from a dissident republican who has been linked to the Omagh bomb - was cleared of all but two charges.

During the course of the trial, it emerged that during the search of the bungalow, officers located a plastic bag in a wardrobe in the couple's bedroom. The bag contained items including an improvised mobile phone operated switch unit and portable power supply, as well as a reloaded cartridge.

It was the Crown's case that these items, along with the presence of the industrial grinder, suggested that the couple were engaging in illegal activity linked to the preparation of bombs.

McConnan admitted touching the bag and placing it in the wardrobe, but always denied he had any knowledge of its contents.

Finding McConnan guilty of two charges linked to the bag - namely possessing the items in suspicious circumstances -  Judge Crawford said it was "inconceivable and wholly implausible" that he didn't know what was in the bag.

After giving her judgement, Judge Crawford told Ms O'Hanlon she was free to go. Before McConnan was returned back to custody, his barrister asked that he be released on bail pending sentencing next month.

The barrister told Judge Crawford that McConnan has been on remand since his arrest and has already served over two years in custody.

Judge Crawford said she would hear a full bail application later this week.

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