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Terror bomber Connor 'felt she was suffocating' before guilty plea at trial, appeal told

By Alan Erwin

A so-called 'lone wolf' dissident republican jailed for trying to murder police officers felt she was "drowning or suffocating" when allegedly advised to plead guilty against her wishes, she told a court yesterday.

Christine Connor claimed she always intended to contest charges related to a terrorist plot said to involve posing online as a Swedish model to lure men into supporting the bid to kill.

The 32-year-old is challenging her conviction on the basis that her plea was equivocal and should never have been accepted.

She told three senior judges at the Court of Appeal that her former lawyers had made a "mammoth error of judgment".

The north Belfast woman said: "My intention was always to do one thing - to plead not guilty."

In June last year Connor received a 16-year prison sentence for a number of terrorist offences linked to home-made bomb attacks on police patrols lured to the city's Crumlin Road in May 2013.

She allegedly placed a hoax 999 call and claimed that a woman living in the area was in danger.

Although the grenades detonated in the first attack, no-one was injured.

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

Detectives built a case against her based on DNA on gloves found close to the scene and CCTV footage.

They also found a mobile phone, SIM cards and a laptop computer stuffed inside the mattress of a bed at her home.

According to police, Connor was not aligned to any dissident republican organisations and acted alone.

They also 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.

During her arraignment last year 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 by claiming the trial judge failed to intervene and examine ambiguities around her pleas.

Handcuffed and dressed entirely in black, Connor was escorted into court by prison guards for the legal challenge. She smiled at her mother and some friends who were in the public gallery.

At one stage she declined to stand when the judges entered - prompting a reminder of the expected etiquette.

In evidence Connor claimed the issue of admitting the charges was first raised at a consultation on the day before her arraignment - triggering underlying anxiety disorders.

"More or less straight away I was informed that I should plead guilty," she told the court.

"I felt instantly that I was drowning or suffocating."

Connor claimed she was informed admissions could see her jail term halved, but as the meeting continued "a tsunami of fears" ran through her.

"More and more I engaged in this natural instinct of fight or flight, but I couldn't get out of the room. It was petrifying," she said.

"I was told if I went to trial and lost, the sentence would be around 18-20 (years), however if I change my plea it could be cut in half."

She also claimed she was advised that a trial would be a burden on both her and her mother.

The appeal judges heard Connor got no sleep that night and entered court the following day "in a bubble". She added: "It didn't feel real, it was completely surreal."

Asked by Mr Vaughan what she had intended to do, she replied: "I was pleading not guilty, I was going to trial, as is my right."

Connor alleged that her unhappiness over the failure to intervene continued in the weeks following her plea.

The prosecution argues that she had clearly pleaded guilty and raised no issues at the time.

Evidence from Connor's former barrister and a Facebook posting attributed to her is also expected to feature as part of the Crown case.

The appeal continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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