A man who has been sentenced to jail after being caught in a taxi with a submachine gun had previous paramilitary-related convictions, dating back to when he was a child.
His sentence amounts to four-and-a-half years in jail, with another four-and-a-half years served on licence.
Due to the nature of the offending, the judge said he was unable to classify the defendant as “dangerous” under the wording of the law.
Jailing Vincent Kelly, 31 and of Hawthorn Street, west Belfast, judge Gordon Kerr QC said that the weapon and ammunition was not be used in “an imminent attack but was to enable others to endanger life in the future”.
Kelly had previously pleaded guilty to possessing the firearm, three magazines and assorted ammunition with intent to endanger life.
The court heard that on Thursday, November 20, 2014, shortly 9.30 pm, as a result of a police operation a taxi was stopped on the Grosvenor Road in Belfast in the area of the Westlink bridge heading towards the Falls Road.
Prosecution lawyer Robin Steer said the taxi was a white Fiat people carrier, and had just collected a fare from Glengall Street bus depot.
“On stopping the vehicle police saw a male person sitting in the back of the taxi in the middle seat and a black sports bag sitting on the floor at this persons feet,” the court heard.
“The male was taken out of the vehicle and identified himself as Vincent Kelly, of 15 Hawthorn Street in Belfast.”
The court was told that another officer unzipped the black sports bag and removed a smaller blue holdall from inside.
The officer found a pillow case containing three rifle magazines and a white sock which was tied at the top and contained approximately thirty rounds of 9mm ammunition.
At the bottom of the holdall the officer found a fleece which he unwrapped and which contained a black submachine gun.
At this point the officer shouted “find”.
Kelly was asked if there was anything there that would cause harm or explode.
Kelly replied: “It’s a gun”.
Examination of CCTV at the Ulsterbus depot showed that the defendant had arrived in the city after he boarded a bus in Dublin at 7.28pm on November 20.
He had travelled to Dublin three days earlier with the blue holdall (also seen on CCTV).
A forensic examination of the firearms and ammunition identified it as a PPS43 sub-machine gun which had been reactivated and modified to fire 9x19mm cartridges.
It was originally produced in Poland for military use.
The weapon could only fire in full automatic mode, rather than semi-automatic mode.
In testing the gun was fired at a car door and the bullets were shown to pass through the door.
As well as 9mm ammunition, a .223 Remington 5.56x45 calibre magazine with a capacity to hold thirty cartridges was also found.
It was designed for use in an AR15 sporting rifle or M16/M4 assault rifle.
An examination of the defendant’s Samsung mobile phone revealed a large number of photos connected to dissident republican terrorism.
There was also a video clip of a man with a shotgun.
The court was told: “Police examination of footage shows the defendant as part of the funeral party at the funeral of Alan Ryan on September 8, 2012, who was regarded as a leading member of the Real IRA in Dublin and who was given a paramilitary style funeral.
“The defendant can be seen directly behind masked men as they fire shots over the coffin which is draped with the Irish national flag, black beret and black gloves.”
“There were also images of the defendant attending the funeral of Anthony (TC) Catney on August 13, 2014, a former Irish Republican prisoner.
The defendant had a previous conviction in the Republic of Ireland for unlawful assembly which related to October 1999, when the defendant was just 15-years-old.
It stemmed from his arrest at an underground bunker taking part in a “Real IRA” training camp in Stamullen, County Meath.
He was also convicted at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court of IRA membership following his arrest in June 2005.
The defendant was interviewed on four occasions during November 21 and 22, 2014, and refused to answer any questions or confirm his identity during interview.
“The prosecution accept that the defendant was not engaged on a live operation when arrested and that the weapon was not loaded,” said Mr Steer.
“The plea is entered on the basis of the so-called ‘second limb’, namely that the possession of the firearm, magazines and ammunition was to enable another person to endanger life in the future.
“Given the nature of the weapon, the prosecution submit that the reduction in sentence in respect of this factor should be modest,” said Mr Steer.
The prosecutor said the gun was likely to be used to carry out attacks on security force personnel or members of the Prison Service.
He acknowledged that Kelly had pleaded guilty but said the had come “at a relatively late stage and there was a strong prosecution case”.
Defence QC Greg Berry questioned whether the rapid-firing weapon “is more deadly than a rifle with a scope”, saying this was “a debatable matter”.
In addition, Mr Berry said “there is nothing to suggest that Kelly was aware of the nature of the weapon, when it was to be use or the precise circumstances”.
Mr Berry said that Kelly got “a bus to Dublin, gets a holdall and travels back by bus”.
Passing sentence, Judge Kerr QC told Kelly that if he had have contested the case the appropriate sentence would have been one of 12 years.
However, the judge said the main mitigation was Kelly’s plea of guilty but said it was a late plea.
Judge Kerr QC said he noted that Kelly had been convicted of unlawful assembly when he was a child, and of membership of the IRA.
He told the court: “There is evidence in his antecedence and his continued involvement and association with a paramilitary organisation.
“However, this offending was not sophisticated and there was no evidence to suggest proximity between the defendant’s acts and an imminent terrorist attack.
“In fact, the plea was entered on the basis that there was no imminent terrorist attack rather future use.
“On the facts of this case I can’t find the defendant dangerous within the meaning of the statutory definition.”
Judge Kerr QC said taking all the aggravating and mitigating factors in the case the appropriate sentence would be one of nine years in custody, saying Kelly would spend half the sentence in jail and the remainder on supervised licence upon his release.
He granted a prosecution application to have the weapon, magazines and ammunition forfeited to the PSNI.
The prosecution asked Judge Kerr QC to allow it some to consider whether to make an application to have Kelly put on a “terrorist register”.
As Kelly was led away by prison guards to start his sentence, he waved to a number of men sitting in the public gallery.