Belfast Telegraph

Lurgan man Luke O'Neill accused of plotting to murder police bailed due to delay in case

By Alan Erwin

Prosecutors failed yesterday in a High Court bid to have a man accused of plotting to kill police officers kept in custody - because of long delays in the case.

A judge dismissed their appeal against 24-year-old Luke O'Neill being granted bail because he would otherwise spend more than two years behind bars before his case is dealt with.

Mr Justice Maguire said: "The length of time involved here, pre-trial, is just too great."

O'Neill, from Silverwood Green in Lurgan, Co Armagh, faces charges of attempting to murder police officers and possessing an improvised explosive device with intent to endanger life.

The alleged offences were committed between August 30 and September 2, 2016.

It was claimed he had access to explosives capable of launching an attack on armoured police vehicles within the Lurgan area.

O'Neill was arrested alongside three other men after officers mounted surveillance and discovered the device during raids in the town.

That trio are jointly accused of preparing a terrorist act, namely targeting a former member of the security forces.

The court was told O'Neill had allegedly been "groomed" by others within the community. Lawyers representing the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) mounted an appeal after a district judge decided on Friday that he should be granted bail.

But defence counsel Stephen Toal argued that O'Neill will not go on trial any earlier than 2019.

He said his client has kept himself in isolation within his prison regime, refusing to leave his cell because he doesn't feel safe.

"The 17 months spent in Maghaberry have been horrendous for this young man," Mr Toal contended.

"His mental health has been badly affected and he wishes to spend as much time as possible with his family." Ruling on the PPS appeal, Mr Justice Maguire said he had to balance the risk of further offences against the time O'Neill had spent in custody.

Based on the presumption of innocence, the judge confirmed: "I have to adopt the position that it's contrary to the interests of justice for me to refuse bail in this case."

O'Neill is to be released on a series of conditions, including a curfew, electronic tagging, and having no contact with the other three men charged as part of the investigation.

He is also banned from having a mobile phone and must not attend any gathering or protest linked to dissident republican activity in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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