Two men who were caught red-handed with a loaded gun but have as yet failed to offer any explanation for it were today jailed for three years each.
Ordering 23-year-old Thomas Rooney and Cathal Kerr (21) to spend 15 months in jail and 21 months on supervised licence, Belfast Crown Court Judge Gordon Kerr QC said while he had offered the pair an opportunity to explain why they had the loaded .38 revolver, no such explanation had ever been forthcoming.
He added there was no direct evidence of terrorist involvment but told the court the fact that the gun was being transported late at night was "suggestive that it was to be used".
Following a Diplock, no jury trial last February, Judge Kerr had convicted the Belfast men of having the gun in suspicious circumstances.
He had heard how police stopped a black Volvo car on March 9 2010 on the Stewartstown Road and found the loaded .38 revolver in the rear, passenger side footwell.
Rooney from Glasvey Close was the driver and Kerr, Gardenmore Road in Dunmurry was sitting behind him in the back seat.
A third man, 36-year-old Paul Shaw, who was sitting on the passenger side back seat and is from Oranmore Street, was also arrested at the scene but he was found not guilty by the judge.
The court heard that as well as the loaded gun, a search of the car also revealed a working walkie-talkie in the front of the car, a knuckle duster in the driver's door and a baseball bat in the boot.
During police interviews both men denied knowledge of the firearm and while Kerr claimed he had only just got into the car to get a lift, Rooney, whose mother owned the car through a motibility scheme, claimed the bat and the knuckle duster had been given to him as a gift by his girlfriend's sister whom he refused to name.
They were linked to the gun however after their DNA profiles were uncovered on it with the court being told "the complex mixture profile obtained from the firearm showed characteristics of Thomas Rooney and Cathal Kerr and that they could not eliminated as contributors".
Today Judge Kerr said that without explanations from either defendant, he was "left with the inference that the gun was to be used by them or others but that the use fell short of having intent to endanger life or cause serious injury" to any person or property.