Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein election poster used for machine gun practice- court hears

By Alan Erwin

A machine gun was allegedly test fired at a Sinn Fein election poster for potential future terrorist use, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed two men were involved in checking out the automatic weapon recovered in north Belfast late last year.

Details emerged as bail was granted to one of them suspected of discharging a single round near the New Lodge district.

Eamonn Hutchinson, 36, from the docks area of the city, faces charges of preparation of terrorist acts and possessing a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

The alleged offences relate to a nighttime police surveillance operation on November 28.

A Crown lawyer said the machine gun was found inside a shopping bag at an alleyway behind Victoria Barracks.

She claimed the two accused had been seen earlier at locations around Carrick Hill and the New Lodge.

Hutchinson was allegedly on a bicycle with a similar bag, while his co-defendant jogged behind.

According to the prosecution they were seen heading to an area of trees bordering Carlisle Road and the Westlink motorway.

A Sinn Fein election candidate's poster was said to have been ripped down and placed against a tree, the court heard.

Crown counsel contended: "At least one shot was discharged at the poster and police believe this was a test fire of the weapon, potentially for future use."

She also revealed that a cache of assorted ammunition, produced in the Czech Republic and United States, was found beside a garden shed during follow-up searches at the co-accused's home.

It was confirmed during the hearing that Hutchinson is not forensically linked to the gun, alleged test shooting, or any of the bullets.

Defence barrister Joe Brolly argued: "As it stands there's no evidence to link this accused to the incident."

Mr Brolly claimed there was a lack of continuity in any surveillance, adding that a forensic report suggests the weapon may have jammed without firing.

"There's no cartridge discharge residue on this poster," he insisted.

But the prosecution responded that further examinations are to be carried out on a hole on the placard to establish if it was caused by a bullet.

Granting bail under terms including a curfew, Sir Richard McLaughlin held there was no risk that Hutchinson, a father of six, would flee.

The judge said: "In a difficult case the benefit has to be given to the accused."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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