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Young woman cleared over south Armagh bomb factory

By Ashleigh McDonald

Published 05/05/2016

Orla O’Hanlon leaves Belfast Crown Court
Orla O’Hanlon leaves Belfast Crown Court
Guilty: Keith McConnan

A 20-year-old woman accused of running a bomb factory is "looking forward to moving on with her life" after she was cleared of all charges.

Orla O'Hanlon was accused of running an explosives factory in Forkhill, Co Armagh, in December 2013. She faced a host of terrorist-related offences after the border home she shared with her partner was searched by police.

While Ms O'Hanlon was freed, her 21-year-old partner Keith McConnan was remanded back into custody after he was convicted on two charges.

The couple were arrested on December 18, 2013 after their rented bungalow at Tievecrom Road in Forkhill was searched by officers 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 subsquently charged with a number of terrorist-related offences, and the couple stood trial late last year at Belfast Crown Court.

Earlier, Judge Sandra Crawford, who presided over the Diplock non-jury trial, presented her judgment on the case.

She aquitted Ms O'Hanlon on all 10 charges she faced, while McConnan - who originally faced nine charges - was found guilty of two offences and cleared of the other seven counts. The couple were tried on a series of serious offences including possessing explosives - namely crushed ammonium nitrate based fertiliser - 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 counts.

During 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, and 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 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 judgment, Judge Crawford told Ms O'Hanlon she was free to go.

Ms O'Hanlon's solicitor Patrick Madden said after the verdict: "Ms O'Hanlon was found not guilty of all charges.

"It was a difficult case and a very difficult time for Ms O'Hanlon, who maintained her innocence from the outset.

"She is glad to finally put this case behind her and looks forward to moving on with her life."

Before McConnan was returned 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.

Belfast Telegraph

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