Former dissident republican wins appeal over sentence

The case was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast
The case was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast

A former dissident republican imprisoned for making explosives has won his appeal against a fresh sentence imposed on him for smuggling drugs into jail.

Senior judges reduced Turlough McAllister’s new term from 16 months to a year after being told he has now shunned those still waging a campaign of terror.

Mr Justice Colton held that the south Armagh man’s efforts to rehabilitate himself and keep off drugs amounted to exceptional personal circumstances.

McAllister, once of Lisarraw Road in Crossmaglen, received a 12-year sentence in 2010 for grinding down fertiliser to be used in making pipe bombs.

The 42-year-old also admitted having shotgun cartridges and a handbook on how to make improvised munitions found inside his home.

In September 2014, two weeks before he was due to be freed from HMP Magilligan, he was searched on his return from a period of pre-release home leave.

Prison officers discovered sleeping tablets, stimulants and other pills with a combined value of £500 - but estimated to be worth up to five times as much in currency behind bars.

Defence lawyers argued that the sentence imposed on him for taking drugs into prison was manifestly excessive.

They contended that the term imposed as a deterrent failed to take into account McAllister’s steps to rehabilitate himself.

The Court of Appeal heard that he is now narcotics-free and managed to secure an HGV licence and job prior to being sent back to jail.

Defence counsel also told judges McAllister has “turned his back on those still waging a campaign of violence and terror and destruction”.

The barrister insisted: “He has put the dissidents behind him with a vengeance, and that takes some courage... particularly in the community he lives in.”

Mr Justice Colton accepted a deterrent sentence was required for smuggling drugs into prison.

But allowing the appeal against sentence, the judge stressed the public interest in rehabilitating offenders.

“It’s clear that in terms of personal mitigation there’s much to commend the appellant,” he said.

He confirmed McAllister’s jail term is to be cut to 12 months – half in custody and half on licence.