A west Belfast man currently standing trial on offences including possessing Semtex told police he thought the wrapped-up explosive substance was cannabis, a court has heard.
Kevin Nolan was arrested in Sunderland in September 2015 after 651 grammes of Semtex was discovered along with two guns, detonators and assorted ammunition in his parents’ Ballymurphy home.
The 47-year-old initially denied any knowledge of the items that were found, but later told police he saw two men hide a bag in a hedge in the City Cemetery. Nolan claimed that, thinking the bag contained money or drugs which he intended to steal, he took the bag back to his parents’ house.
The accused also told police that when he saw a block wrapped in cling film he thought it was “a whack of dope”.
At a previous hearing, the Stewartstown Road man pleaded guilty to possessing firearms and ammunition on dates between May 1 and September 18, 2015 in suspicious circumstances.
Setting out the Crown case against Nolan, prosecuting barrister Michael Chambers told Judge Patricia Smyth that the accused now faces six charges arising from the items located in the house during the planned police search on September 17, 2015.
The charges include possessing 651g of the commercial explosive ‘Semtex’ and two improvised electric detonators, both with intent to endanger life, and also in suspicious circumstances. He has also been charged with and denies possessing two handguns with intent, as well as possessing articles for use in terrorism, namely a black balaclava.
Mr Chambers said that when the items underwent forensic testing, Nolan’s DNA was located on the inside of the balaclava as well as on the grip of the Baikai pistol.
Nolan was arrested at his girlfriend’s house in Sunderland three days later, where he said: “Yeah, I wanted out of Belfast. I don’t want a hole in my head. I was accused of stealing something.”
He was brought back to Northern Ireland and brought to Antrim Serious Crime Suite, where police were handed a pre-prepared statement which said: “I am not, never have been or never will be a member of a proscribed organisation. I have no knowledge of the items seized by police.”
Nolan then refused to answer police questions in several interviews, including refusing to answer a question about whether he was acting under duress.
However, Mr Chambers said that in his eighth interview, Nolan’s stance changed, and a second pre-prepared statement was read on his behalf.
In this statement, Nolan made a series of claims. He stated that earlier in 2015 he saw two men in the City Cemetery leave a plastic bag in a hedge. He said that after they left, he went to the hedge, found the bag and brought it back to his parents’ house.
In the statement, Nolan said: “I suspected the males were hiding money or drugs in the hedge and my intention was to steal the money or drugs for my own personal gain.”
Nolan claimed that when he opened the bag in the bedroom, he was “shocked” to discover the guns and bullets, adding he thought the Semtex was in fact cannabis resin – or as he called it “a whack of dope”.
The Belfast man said he then hid the items, adding he panicked and was in fear for his life. He then went to his partner’s house in Sunderland, but said he was aware dissident republicans in Belfast were looking for items taken from them at a graveyard.
Nolan also expressed fears he would be shot if he came back to Belfast, and said in the statement that he was contacted by a go-between who said that if he returned and handed the items over, he would not be shot.
He also said in his statement that his family was not aware that he had the items in their home.
The court also heard claims from Nolan that he had already decided to come back to Belfast on the day of his arrest in Sunderland, where he planned to hand the items to the go-between. He made the case: “I was going to take a kneecapping rather than one in the head.”
Mr Chambers concluded by telling Judge Smyth: “The Crown does not accept that account which we feel is utterly implausible. By his own admission, he was guilty in law of the offences.”