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Pipe bomb dissident 'wedded to violence' is jailed for 20 years

Woman (34) was the driving force behind attacks on police

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Christine Connor, who was jailed yesterday for 20 years

Christine Connor, who was jailed yesterday for 20 years

Swedish model Sanne Andersson, who the terrorist pretended to be

Swedish model Sanne Andersson, who the terrorist pretended to be

A window smashed by the blast from one of two devices used by Christine Connor to attack police

A window smashed by the blast from one of two devices used by Christine Connor to attack police

A hooded top found in a skip close to the scene of a pipe bomb attack containing Connor’s DNA

A hooded top found in a skip close to the scene of a pipe bomb attack containing Connor’s DNA

A Nokia mobile phone used by Connor to lure police to an attack

A Nokia mobile phone used by Connor to lure police to an attack

Christine Connor, who was jailed yesterday for 20 years

A remorseless dissident republican from north Belfast who remains "wedded to violence" and posed as a Swedish model as part of a pipe bomb plot to kill police has been jailed for 20 years.

Last month Judge Stephen Fowler QC found Christine Connor guilty of four offences of attempted murder and possessing explosives with intent to endanger life.

It came after two attacks in the north of the city in May 2013. In one, police were lured to the scene by a bogus 999 call she made claiming to be the victim of domestic violence.

Connor (34) appeared at Belfast Crown Court via video link from Hydebank Wood prison.

Judge Fowler described the attack on police as both "cynical and sinister" and told the hearing that it was an attempt by Connor to "lure police into an ambush" by making a hoax call claiming to be the victim of domestic abuse requiring urgent police assistance.

"The defendant knew that police would regard a domestic violence situation as a high priority."

The judge added that one of the devices landed at the right foot of a PSNI officer who was "entirely fortuitous to escape with his life" and sustained ringing in his ear, abrasions to his legs and significant post traumatic stress disorder, and the events "were terrifying for all those caught up in them".

Judge Fowler said the offences Connor had been convicted of where both "serious and specified" and after careful consideration he found the defendant posed a danger to the public in the future and a serious risk of serious harm.

"The aim and intentions behind these attacks was to kill police... the devices were effective anti-personnel devices and their planning and deployment were detailed," he said.

The judge added: "The defendant was the driving force behind the attacks, securing the making of the pipe bombs, the reconnoitre of the attack locations and throwing the bombs.

"In my view she remains a committed dissident republican and nothing has changed. She is still wedded to violence.

"Her pivotal role in these attacks demonstrated a commitment to the dissident republican cause and a willingness to murder to further those ends. She has also shown no remorse."

Judge Fowler said there were a number of aggravating features in the case.

He cited the deployment of the pipe bombs "in furtherance of a violent political cause".

He added that two frontline public servants, police officers, were targeted when they responded to what they believed was a call for help from a vulnerable woman being subjected to domestic violence.

The judge said there had been significant research in bomb making and reconnaissance of attack points; Connor had played a central role by throwing the pipe bombs; and there had been two incidents in which pipe bombs were thrown.

He noted her lack of remorse, her "high" culpability and described the harm as "murderous".

In mitigation, the judge said he took into account Connor's significant ill health, her mental health and her clinical obesity which made her vulnerable to contracting Covid-19 in prison.

He also noted defence submissions that she had not committed any further offending while on bail for the terrorist offences.

Judge Fowler concluded by stating that given Connor's poor health he was imposing a sentence of 20 years in prison on the defendant with four years' extended licence.

During her trial at Belfast Crown Court, the prosecution outlined how in the first incident on May 16, 2013, Connor undertook a trial run and threw a pipe bomb on the Ligoniel Road. In the early hours, she made a 999 call and claimed that a device had been left on a wall at a house. A couple driving home from the airport were travelling on the road when the device exploded, but no damage was caused to their vehicle.

She again made a bogus 999 call to police at around 2am on May 28, 2013 with the intention of luring police to the Crumlin Road. During the call, Connor rang the PSNI to tearfully claim her name was Gemma and that she had been punched by her boyfriend.

Police attended a house on the Crumlin Road, and as one officer was knocking the front door, a pipe bomb was thrown at another officer from a nearby alleyway, who had to take cover.

At the scene evidence was found connecting Connor to the attack, including a hoodie top which bore her blood and which was found in a skip at the opposite end of the alleyway. Also found close to the alley were a Tesco bag, gloves with her DNA on them and her Nokia phone. In addition, the judge noted that she left her boot imprint in dog faeces in the alleyway.

Connor, whose address is subject to a reporting restriction, had denied attempted murder, two counts of causing an explosion likely to endanger life and the preparation of terrorist acts.

She was charged alongside Stuart Downes from Shrewsbury. The 31-year old was subsequently granted bail, and was found dead in woodland near his home in June 2016.

The Crown said its case was built on a "combination of circumstantial, physical and forensic evidence", and that she and Downes were "engaged in the preparation of terrorist acts", between February and May 2013.

The pair had researched pipe bombs with Downes purchasing component parts and ensuring they were dispatched to and received in Northern Ireland where they were deployed by Connor.

Prosecutors said Connor and Downes met online and established a relationship when Connor was posing as a blonde, Swedish model called Sanne Anderson.

When arrested, Connor denied she knew Downes and rejected claims she communicated with him. She continued these denials during the trial. However in his ruling, Judge Fowler said there was overwhelming evidence to suggest otherwise.

A month before the two explosions, an "intense relationship" via SMS and Facebook messages developed between Connor and Downes as they researched information on pipe bombs.

During her arrest on May 29, 2013, police searched Connor's home and found two laptops and a phone hidden in a mattress in a bedroom.

When these devices were examined a movie file was located which depicts a female walking in north Belfast and talking about police. This video was described as a "practice run" and this same clip was also located on Downes' mobile.

An examination of the laptop showed online searches such as 'How to make pipe bombs in your kitchen' had been made.

During the trial, Connor gave various explanations about the presence of these items. When asked if she had brought the pipe bombs to the scene in the Tesco bag, Connor said "don't be ridiculous" and claimed she had water in her bag.

But in convicting her of the four offences, Judge Fowler said that having had "the benefit of seeing and hearing the defendant give evidence and be cross-examined ... I found her evasive, argumentative and, when it suited her, refused to answer questions".

He said her refusal to answer police questions due to legal advice was "a convenient shield to hide behind", adding he believed she had "invented" the answers she later gave in court to try and explain both her presence and items linked to her at the scene.

Police welcomed the sentence. Detective Superintendent Richard Campbell of Serious Crime Branch said: "On May 28, 2013 police responded to a '999' call reporting a domestic dispute. This call was made by what appeared to be a very distressed woman. Officers were dispatched to the address given and when they exited their vehicle two improvised explosive devices were thrown.

"Thankfully neither of the officers were seriously injured; however they were left extremely traumatised by this horrific experience. It is good fortune that an officer was not killed that night."

He added: "Christine Connor callously made a call for help, pretending that her boyfriend was 'smashing up the house'. She exploited an all too familiar situation that numerous people find themselves in - domestic abuse.

"The officers were responding to what they believed was a woman in fear of an abusive partner. They never expected to be the victims of an attempted murder bid that day when they left their homes to come on duty. Their primary focus was on keeping people safe and coming to the assistance of those in most need. Thankfully they got to go back home to their loved ones that day.

"Today's sentencing is the result of excellent joint working between the PSNI and West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit and other UK police services. I would like to thank all officers who were involved in bringing Christine Connor to justice."

Belfast Telegraph