Belfast Telegraph

Jailed dissident Christine Connor had no issues with my legal advice, ex-counsel says

By Alan Erwin

A woman jailed for trying to murder police officers was only concerned with being wrongly depicted as a lone wolf terrorist, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Christine Connor's former barrister testified that she raised no issue about her legal advice at a meeting in the aftermath of pleading guilty.

He told three senior judges: "The sole issue was that she was not alone, that she was part of a network of individuals."

The 32-year-old north Belfast woman is seeking to overturn convictions for a plot which involved her posing online as a Swedish model to lure men into supporting her bid to kill.

Her current lawyers argue that her pleas were equivocal and should never have been accepted.

On day two of the hearing she was warned over repeated courtroom outbursts where she called her former counsel "an absolute liar" as he gave evidence.

Connor, who is serving a 16-year sentence for a number of terrorist offences, also hit out at how she was portrayed by the police and Press following her conviction last year.

"It was the most disgusting, derogatory thing I ever heard," she said.

Charges against her included a role in home-made bomb attacks on police patrols lured to the city's Crumlin Road in May 2013. Although the grenades detonated in the first attack, no one was injured.

Twelve days later one policeman was wounded when more bombs were thrown.

Police said she had exploited two men to further her aims - both of whom later took their own lives.

Her efforts to dupe them allegedly included using online photographs of a Swedish model and creating a fake social media profile.

Connor was also jailed for possessing explosives with intent to endanger life and preparation of terrorist acts.

At a rearraignment as she was set to go on trial in May 2017, she replied to each of the charges: "I am not guilty, but on advice I will plead guilty."

She is now attempting to have those convictions set aside on the basis that the trial judge failed to intervene and examine ambiguities around those pleas.

In court yesterday she claimed to have acted under immense pressure.

Cross-examined by Ciaran Murphy QC, for the prosecution, she acknowledged her political views but insisted they should have no bearing.

The appellant, who once again refused to stand when the judges entered, said: "Being a republican does not make me guilty. That's ridiculous.

"I stand over that and I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed about."

Later Mr Murphy put it to her that her only regret was over the length of sentence imposed.

But referring to her former legal representatives, Connor replied: "No, my regret was that I was weak enough to allow four men to manipulate me."

Her response brought accusations of lying about being made to plead guilty. "You have tried to manipulate the circumstances to give support to that lie," Mr Murphy insisted.

"You made a choice which you said yourself you bitterly regret; it was your choice."

Her former barrister, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was then called to rebut her allegations.

He told the court Connor had advanced no positive case, instead leaving the prosecution faced with proving their evidence.

With the case against her described as "overwhelming", counsel said that at a consultation she expected evidence to be challenged but not to be acquitted.

It was always emphasised that the decision on whether to plead guilty was for her to take, the appeal judges heard.

The barrister also testified that Connor did not want any approach made to the prosecution to try to secure a reduced jail term for the attempted murder charge because she would be seen as a "tout".

He insisted that everyone involved in the rearraignment understood and accepted it as being a guilty plea.

"In pleading guilty she was also making a statement, perhaps to others outside the court that she was still challenging anyone to make a judgment on her political actions," the barrister said.

According to a police statement following her conviction Connor was not aligned to any dissident republican organisations and had acted alone.

Her ex-counsel told the court that when he met her again following the guilty pleas she was distressed at that depiction.

Connor's former lawyer continued: "Police indicated she was a lone wolf, had constructed these particular items and in that way she felt that was not accurate because she was part of a network of individuals within the community.

"That was important to her."

The appeal continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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