Dissident republican mother-of-three convicted under terror laws aimed at tackling homegrown Islamic extremism
A dissident republican mother-of-three was the first person to be jailed in Northern Ireland under terror laws brought in to combat homegrown Islamic extremism.
Sharon Rafferty was one of a gang of four jailed for a string of terrorist-related offences including the setting up of a training camp at Formil Wood on the outskirts of Omagh, Co Tyrone.
They were convicted under the terms of the Terrorism Act 2006 – introduced in the wake of the London bombings which killed 52 people on July 7, 2005.
The legislation – which also extended the time terror suspects could be held without charge – was designed to convict those plotting similar atrocities.
The Act made it easier to prosecute potential bombers, introducing offences of preparing a terrorist act, giving or receiving terrorist training, and selling or spreading terrorist publications. It also widened powers to ban organisations which glorify terrorism. It is the first time the legislation has been used to combat dissident republican terrorism in Northern Ireland.
At court on Friday, Rafferty was told she will spend four years in prison with a further four spent on licence.
She will also be subject to notification orders under counter terrorism legislation, preventing her from travelling abroad or moving home without first consulting the authorities, for a period of 15 years. Rafferty was earlier accused of directing terrorism, the first woman here to face such a charge. It was subsequently dropped.
Sources told this newspaper Rafferty was a close associate of prominent Lurgan-based republican Colin Duffy. She had previously worked in a factory and following her divorce was granted custody of her three children, now aged 18, 13 and 12.
The 39-year-old from Pomeroy had reportedly been in a relationship with dissident republican David Jordan.
The 43-year-old from Donaghmore was sentenced to seven years in 2010 for paramilitary activity in the Republic. He was previously named as somebody the police wanted to question regarding the 2009 attack at Massereene Army Barracks in which two young soldiers were murdered.
Secret recordings carried out by the intelligence services picked up conversations between Rafferty and co-defendant Sean Kelly (49) during which she claimed she had previously acted as a recruitment officer for the IRA, the court heard. She was also recorded discussing plots to target police, with the apparent vulnerability of officers in Toome discussed.
Rafferty was arrested at her Cabhan Aluinn home six weeks after the shooting practice session on March 30 in the woods.
During the course of 19 interviews, she spoke only once to deny she was a member of any illegal organisation.
Despite her initial silence she later pleaded guilty to a string of offences including possession of a rifle and ammunition in suspicious circumstances on March 30, 2012 and attending a place of use for terrorist training.
She also pleaded guilty to a charge of preparing or helping others in the preparation of an improvised firing range.
When sentenced last Friday, Rafferty showed little emotion. As she was being cuffed by security staff she gestured at friends and family in the public gallery.
Her defence had earlier painted a picture of a devoted family woman - a world away from the carnage the gang was convicted of preparing to inflict. The court was told: "When this defendant is released from custody her principle objective will be to re-establish the connection with her children and devote herself to the core that was the principle focus of her life before her arrest."