Republican die-hard’s courtroom tactics have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds

The courtroom tactics of a republican would-be killer cost taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds, the News Letter has established.

Monday, 5th October 2020, 7:32 am
Christine Connor arriving at a court hearing in 2019

Christine Connor, who was behind a bizarre and botched campaign to murder police in north Belfast, was finally convicted and sentenced for her crimes this summer.

However she faced two seperate court cases before eventually being found guilty.

The News Letter has now learned just how much she cost NI’s prosecutors.

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She launched two separate pipe bomb attacks on officers who were lured to her location by hoax calls in May 2013 (with an officer suffering hearing injuries, leg injuries, and PTSD after narrowly avoiding death by diving away from one explosion).

Connor – who refused to recognise the court – faced charges of attempted murder, possessing and detonating explosives, and preparing terrorist acts.

But her trial involved over 230 witnesses and thousands of documents, and the case did not get under way for years.

During that time there were a number of interim hearings which she used to request bail (which she sometimes got) and to complain about her electronic tag.

What happened next cost the public purse dearly.

In May 2017 – four years after her attacks – she told judge McFarland in Belfast Crown Court: “I am not guilty, but on advice I will plead guilty.”

Neither the judge nor the lawyers questioned the nature of Connor’s pleas.

She got a 16-year sentence (but was told she could apply to be freed after eight years).

Almost straight away, Connor began “considering her legal options regarding any potential breach of her right to a fair hearing”.

And a few months later she appealed her conviction, with her solicitor claiming her pleas were “equivocal” and “should not have been received by the learned trial judge”.

In December 2018 a panel of judges said it had been “inexplicable” for the court not to have clarified her pleas, threw out her conviction, and ordered a re-trial.

Finally in July 2020 – by now seven years after her bomb attacks – she was found guilty by Judge Fowler and sentenced to 20 years (although again it is thought she will be out well before that).

The News Letter has asked the PPS for a breakdown of its costs, since her case spanned so many years and she had to be put on trial twice.

Overall, the PPS spent at least £93,400 on convicting her. But these are just the “identifiable costs” – the true cost of the man-hours spent on her cases will never be known.

The vast bulk of it, £90,700, went on barrister fees, with the rest going on witnesses.

Breaking it down further, PPS preparation for her first case (the one which was thrown out) cost £59,400.

About £14,900 was spent fighting her appeal, and her re-trial cost another £19,100.

Connor claimed to be in a group called United Struggle – but in reality the group was just her.

Two men, one from England, one from America, also got roped into her plot after talking to her over the internet.

The Englishman had researched the construction of the pipe bombs, and later claimed responsibility in the name of the “republican movement” via phone.

The American had sent her money.

Both young men killed themselves after investigators questioned them.

The PPS and the Lord Chief Justice’s Office were both asked if they would wish to make any comment, but (as is common protocol with judges) no comment was received.

However the PPS did say that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Stephen Herron, “has sought leave to refer the sentence imposed on Christine Connor to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it is unduly lenient”.

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