Belfast Telegraph

Belfast man wins appeal after dissident republican ammunition find

Kevin Anthony McLaughlin had his conviction overturned.
Kevin Anthony McLaughlin had his conviction overturned.

By Alan Erwin

A west Belfast man jailed for having a haul of ammunition and bomb-making components has won his appeal against conviction.

Senior judges today overturned the guilty verdicts against 38-year-old Kevin Anthony McLaughlin based on weaknesses in the forensic evidence linking him to the find made in the attic of a house.

They directed that the 38-year-old, from Ballymurphy Drive, should be freed immediately.

Flanked by prison guards at the Court of Appeal, Mr McLaughlin raised his hands in jubilation to supporters in the public gallery.

In March he received a five-and-a-half year sentence for alleged offences linked to an investigation into dissident republican terrorism.

A large bag had been located during searches of a house in the Twinbrook area in November 2015.

Inside it were smaller bags containing three mercury tilt switches, nearly 700 assorted cartridges, detonators and a magazine for an AK47.

Mr McLaughlin had no links to the house that was searched, but the prosecution said his prints were present on some of the bags containing the items.

Swabs were also taken from handles and a knot, with a mixed DNA profile obtained.

Mr McLaughlin was a contributor to that profile, according to the prosecution case.

He was convicted of possessing the items in suspicious circumstances following a trial at Belfast Crown Court.

But during the appeal defence lawyers argued that the DNA evidence was insufficient.

David Scoffield QC stressed there was no forensic link to the defendant on any of the ammunition or components.

He also contended that the prosecution case was undermined by a forensic expert being unable to rule out an innocent, secondary transfer of Mr McLaughlin's DNA to some of the bags.

"We can't say in what circumstances the DNA came to be there, or how long it had been there," the barrister submitted.

"She (the expert) agreed it could have been months or years."

Following deliberations Lord Justice Stephens confirmed the challenge had succeeded.

He said: "We allow the appeal against conviction. Our reasons will follow."

Outside court Mr McLaughlin's solicitor, Darragh Mackin, declared his client fully vindicated by the outcome.

He said: "From the inception there were clear concerns regarding the DNA evidence in this case.

"It's always been our view that Kevin McLaughlin was wrongly convicted, and we welcome the Court of Appeal's judgment which has proved his innocence on these charges."

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