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Man jailed over 'bomb making factory' at rural farm

A mechanic caught red handed at a major bomb making factory on a rural farm in Northern Ireland has been handed an 11-year jail sentence.

Barry Francis Petticrew, 45, will serve a further three years on licence.

A police undercover surveillance operation filmed the father-of-two moving equipment from a van parked at the farm near Kinawley, Co Fermanagh in October 2014.

Realising he had been detected, he tried to escape across the countryside, but officers caught up with him and made an arrest.

Petticrew, originally from Belfast but who had been living at Drumbroghas, Swanlinbar just across the Irish border in Co Cavan at the time of his arrest, pleaded guilty in the autumn to three charges in relation to the find.

The weapons haul included 500 kg of high grade nitro based fertiliser used in home-made explosives, three timer power units, ammunition, improvised explosive devices, a mortar base, detonator cord and disposable suits and gloves.

For context, the 1998 Omagh bomb - which killed 29 people - contained between 150 to 250kgs of home-made explosives.

Petticrew, who has been on remand in Maghaberry high security jail in Co Antrim since his arrest, denied being affiliated to any terrorist organisation and claimed he been pressurised into his actions.

While he has not been held in the dissident republican wing of Maghaberry, judge Gordon Kerr QC said the find was made in an area synonymous with dissident activity.

A previous court sitting heard Petticrew also formed part of a guard of honour at the 2013 republican funeral of Seamus McKenna - a man suspected of involvement in the Omagh bomb.

Petticrew admitting possessing explosives with the intent to endanger life; possessing articles that would be of use to terrorist; and possession of ammunition.

Passing sentence, judge Kerr said the farm was being used as a "bomb factory".

He said all the various items could be made into a series of smaller bombs, but added: "Or a large device of the size of some of the largest devices ever used in Northern Ireland."

The judge said associates of Petticrew may have been the ones intending to deploy the terrorist arsenal.

"Serious injury of death were contemplated by those he associated with," he added.

Bespectacled Petticrew, dressed in a grey and orange jacket and jeans, gave the thumbs up to family members and supporters in court as he was led away after sentence was passed.

After the hearing at Antrim Crown Court, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) outlined further details around their investigation.

Detective Inspector Davy Lowans, from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said: "This haul contained many of the components used by a terrorist grouping - everything from timer power units and fertiliser to a coffee grinder, ammunition and forensic suits.

"We believe this was for use by dissident terrorists in Fermanagh and other parts of Northern Ireland. The quantities and range of items recovered would have enabled a number of explosive devices to be constructed.

"The seizure will have had an impact on the terrorists' capabilities and undoubtedly has saved lives. The subsequent clearance operation in Kinawley two years ago caused considerable disruption to the law-abiding local community.

"We will continue to strive to strike a balance between providing an effective policing service which includes diminishing the threat posed by terrorist groupings and allowing normal community life to continue.

"We firmly believe that the removal of this terrorist haul has prevented bloodshed, loss of life and consequent heartache. We would continue to ask people to work with us and provide us with information so that Northern Ireland can be a safer place for everyone.

"A total of 350 exhibits were processed during this investigation. I want to commend all our civilian and police staff for their professionalism and commitment."

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