Major dissident crimes in NI often lead to jail sentences in single-figure years

Vincent Kelly
Vincent Kelly

After the sentencing of dissident Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell to between 12 and 18 years in jail, the News Letter revists the sentences meted out in the cases of many other dissidents recently.

Maxwell was sentenced in an English court, and all those below in Northern Irish ones, further stoking claims that judges in the Province tend to behave in a more lenient fashion with terror convicts than in mainland UK.


Here is a handful of the terror sentences which the News Letter looked at in recent months:

Of all the republican dissidents whose sentences have been examined by the News Letter in recent months, arguably the highest-profile is Damien Joseph McLaughlin.

He is currently awaiting Diplock (non-jury) trial on charges including aiding and abetting murder – all of which he denies – arising from the shooting of prison officer David Black in November 2012.

McLaughlin, from Kilmascally Road in east rural Co Tyrone, made the headlines this year when it emerged that he had absconded ahead of his trial while he was out on bail, before being captured again in the Republic.

He had previously been released from jail in 2011 after facing court proceedings for having a massive haul of weapons, discovered in 2009.

The haul was made up of: a Kriko rifle, Ruger rifle, shortened-barrel shotgun, two silencers, a magazine for the Ruger, and a selection of bullets including 55 hollow-point rifle rounds – a type of ammunition designed to expand inside victims’ bodies.

McLaughlin pleaded guilty to firearms possession in suspicious circumstances, and to two charges of possessing articles for use in terrorism (namely, two sniper scopes) in May 2011.

The following month he was sentenced to a total term of four years and six months – half to be spent in custody, half on licence.

However, he was free by the end of that year.

While the Department of Justice has refused to confirm when or why he was released so soon after sentencing, it is possibly due to time spent in custody prior to being convicted.

In September 2014 Sean Kelly (49, of Duneane Crescent, Toomebridge) was among a gang of four jailed after the security services uncovered a paramilitary firing range in Formil Wood, Tyrone.

Kelly, plus Terence Aidan Coney (36, of Malabhui Road, Carrickmore), his brother Gavin Joseph Coney (37, of Gorticashel Road, Omagh) and Sharon Rafferty (39, of Cabhan Aluinn, Pomeroy) were convicted of 18 charges amongst them.

All were guilty of attending the range for terrorist purposes, preparation of terrorist acts, and possessing a firearm in suspicious circumstances.

Kelly was convicted of the most offences, and ordered to spend at least five years in jail (and five on licence); the judge also made his sentence “indeterminate” meaning he could potentially be kept in longer.

He had an earlier conviction dating from 1993 for trying to murder a policeman with an under-car bomb, for which he got a 24-year term.

Rafferty was told to spend four years in jail (and the same on licence) and both Coney brothers got two years, 10 months, and two weeks in jail (and the same on licence).

In September 2016, Vincent Kelly, 31 and of Hawthorn Street in west Belfast, was handed a term of four-and-a-half years in jail, with another four-and-a-half years on licence by Gordon Kerr QC.

He had pleaded guilty to possessing a PPS43 sub-machine gun, three magazines and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

He was caught in 2014 in a taxi on the Grosvenor Road in Belfast, heading towards the Falls Road, having just arrived from Dublin by bus.

The defendant had a previous conviction in the Republic for unlawful assembly, after being arrested in 1999, aged 15, at an underground bunker on a Real IRA training camp in Stamullen, Co Meath, and was also convicted in Dublin of IRA membership following arrest in 2005.

Conal Corbett (20 and of Flax Street in Ardoyne, Belfast) was given a suspended sentence in August 2016 by judge Gordon Kerr at Belfast Crown Court, for being part of a bomb plot.

It involved what police described as a “fairly substantial” remote-controlled bomb on a billboard on the edge of Ardoyne, which the PSNI believe was aimed at police.

It failed to detonate, and the alarm was raised after priests were called; it was by tracing the telephones used in the plot that police were drawn to Corbett, who had bought a phone and top-up vouchers.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing items for terrorist-related offences (the phone and vouchers), making records for terrorism, and possessing documents useful for terrorism. He got an 18-month sentence, suspended for two years (he spent seven months on remand).

Gerard Flannigan (35 and from Colin View Street, west Belfast) was sentenced to serve two-and-a-half years in jail for gun possession in November 2016, handed down by judge Geoffrey Miller at Belfast Crown Court.

A semi-automatic pistol had been used in what the judge called a “potentially murderous” attack on a house (in which there were three children) in Ardoyne in 2014.

The still-loaded gun was found wrapped in bags under Flannigan’s partner’s car the next day, with his DNA on the weapon, and fingerprints on one of the bags.

Nevertheless he still denied knowing about the gun, before later admitting possession of a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances, possessing both the pistol and ammunition without a firearm certificate. He displayed no remorse.

He was handed a five-year sentence – half in jail, and half on licence.

The following month, the same Gerard Flannigan – plus Brian Gerald Holmes (28 and of Bingnian Drive in Andersonstown, Belfast) – were sentenced by judge Geoffrey Miller at Belfast Crown Court.

They had been caught retrieving a hidden bolt-action rifle from a field.

They both initially pleaded not guilty to gun possession, then later changed their pleas.

For the rifle offence, Flananigan got one year in jail and another year on licence – all concurrent to his existing handgun offence, so he did not have to spend any more time behind bars. Holmes got a two-year sentence, suspended for three years.