Man sentenced after rifle find

Pacemaker Press 22/5/2013  Laganside Court Building  in Belfast City centre  Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 22/5/2013 Laganside Court Building in Belfast City centre Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A west Belfast man was sentenced to two years in prison today (Tuesday) after he and a co-accused were caught with a rifle during a covert police operation into dissident republican activity.

Gerard Flannigan (36), of Colin View Street was told he will spend one year in custody and a further year on supervised licence following his released from jail.

Co-accused Brian Gerald Holmes (28), of Bingnian Drive, west Belfast received a two year sentence suspended for three years.

Both men pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm in suspicious circumstance on the outskirts of west Belfast over three years ago.

Belfast Crown Court heard that the PSNI were “conducting a surveillance operation in the Twinbrook area’’ on April 4, 2013’’ when they spotted a silver Hyundai car being driven by Holmes.

Prosecution barrister Robin Steer said the car was driven from Apsen Walk out to Barnfield Road where it was followed by undercover ‘Oscar’ police officers on the ground and a police helicopter which was recording its movements on CCTV.

He told the court police observed the vehicle stop at the side of the road and the two defendants got out and went to the rear of the vehicle.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC heard that Flannigan, who was dressed in dark clothing, and Holmes later appeared to searching for something in a ditch at the side of the road.

Flannigan was then observed going through a hole in a the hedge and was spotted “lying down’’ in a snow covered field.

Mr Steer said police moved in and arrested the pair under the Terrorism Act.

An initial search uncovered nothing because of the “unseasonal weather’ but the following day an Army search team uncovered a “wooden style rifle’’ near the base of a tree wrapped in plastic bags.’’

“It was a long barrelled weapon and it was not loaded and no ammunition was found at the scene. It was examined and found to be a USA 1917 bolt action 30-06 rifle,’’ said Mr Steer.

“It was in poor condition. It was rusted and covered in a thick green residue and had not been recently used.

“The wooden style housing was home made and was held together with glue and Jubilee clips on the rifle.’’

Although it was in poor condition, Mr Steer told the court that a forensic firearms officer said the rifle was in “good mechanical condition’’ and was successfully test fired with readily available ammunition.

“The weapon could be used and it can be classified as a firearm and not an antique weapon although it had not been used in some time. There is no history of the weapon having been used before.’’

The prosecutor added: “It is clear that this weapon was to be used by a paramilitary organisation. It is difficult to say what it was to be precisely used for but it could have been for propaganda purposes such as photographs.’’

Defence counsel Eliis McDermott QC said that by his guilty plea father-of-three Holmes “might give himself some difficulty’’ in retaining his PSV licence as a taxi driver.

She told the court that in the opinion of an independent firearms expert, the rifle had “not been recently fired and may not have been fired for decades.’’

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said it was clear the bolt action rifle was to be used for some “nefarious paramilitary related activity’’ but added that whether it was to be used for “propaganda purposes is somewhat debatable’’.

The judge said that as Holmes had a previous clear record and there had been a delay in bringing the case to court, he would impose a two-year sentence suspended for two years.

Flannigan received a sentence of two years which was divided equally between custody and probation.

However, Judge Miller QC said the sentence would run concurrent to a recent five year sentence Flannigan received for possessing of a firearm.

Last month at Belfast Crown Court, Flannigan received the five year jail term after pleading guilty to possession of a semi-automatic pistol in a “potentially murderous’’ attack on a north Belfast home.

He admitted taking possession of the pistol just hours after a gun attack on a family home at Velsheda Court, Ardoyne in September 2014.