A Belfast man linked to the discovery of bomb planted in Ardoyne in a bid to harm members of the security forces was handed a suspended sentence today.
Conal Corbett - who has already spent seven months on remand for the four terrorist-related offences - was handed an 18-month sentence, which was spended for two years, after appeared at Belfast Crown Court.
Passing sentence on Corbett on his 20th birthday, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said that whilst he accepted Corbett was linked to the incident via the purchase of top-up cards for mobile phones used in he bomb plot, there was nothing to suggest he was involved in either the preparation or the placing of the device.
Telling the court the remote-controlled bomb failed to detonate, Judge Kerr said it had the potential to cause “fatal injury to police officers.”
Judge Kerr said that he was also taking into account the fact that Corbett, from Oisin House in the Victoria Parade area of the city, was just 18 when he committed the offences, which all fall under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Prior to sentence being passed today, a previous court hearing was told that Corbett was arrested at his then Flax Street flat in May 2015 following a police investigation into the discovery of the bomb which was hidden in advertising hoarding in the Brompton Park area of north Belfast.
Just after midnight on May 1, 2015, Father Gary Donegan from Holy Cross received a telephone call warning that a device had been left behind at Sean Graham’s Bookmakers at Brompton Park.
Father Donegan alerted the PSNI, and officers arrived a short time later and carried out a search of the area.
The following morning, another local priest was contacted and informed that urgent action needed to be taken as a device had been left at Brompton Park. The area was searched again and a remote-controlled device which had been disguised to look like part of the hoarding was located and removed. The prosecutor said that a group calling itself the New IRA later claimed responsibility.
Following the discovery, a police investigation was launched. When efforts were made to try and trace the mobile phone used to call Father Donegan, it emerged that it was made using an O2 ‘pay as you go’ mobile, and that the phone had been topped up using vounchers bought in Belfast.
The investigation also revealed that other mobile phones were connected to the bomb plot, and when this was probed by police it emerged that a top-up card used for one of the handsets had been bought in the Eurospar in Ardoyne.
CCTV footage from the store was seized and examined, which led to police searching Corbett’s flat. The court heard that Corbett was also linked by CCTV footage to the purchase of a mobile phone and top-up card bought in CastleCourt on April 27th, 2015.
Corbett was arrested on May 7 at his flat at Flax Street. During a search of the premises, officers located a number of items which the Crown say showed sympathies with the Republican cause. These items included a hankerchief of Padraig Pearse which had been signed by prisoners from the dissident wing in Maghaberry. Other items located included a crossbow, a black balaclava and political poems written by Corbett.
Two items linked to terrorism were also located during the search. One was a folded piece of paper which was hidden in a doorbell box and which related to component parts of a rifle and ammunition and instructions on how to assembly an AK47
Also seized was Corbett’s laptop and when it was examined, located was a AK47 instruction and safety manuel. The prosecution said it was accepted that this 95-page document was “readily available on the internet.”
Corbett was interviewed on 12 separate occasions, and during each interview he made no reply to any question asked.
He subsequently pleaded guilty four offences - two counts of possessing items for terrorist-related offences, namely the mobile phone and two top-up vouchers; collecting or making records of information for terrorism, and also possessing documents useful for terrorism.
Defence barrister Mark Mulholland QC said that Corbett’s offending came at a time when there was an “element of niavety”. Branding Corbett then as a “teenager with misguided romantic notions”, Mr Mulholland said there had been no further offending since his arrest in May 2015.
The barrister said that whilst on remand, Corbett was moved from Hydebank YOC to the dissident wing at Maghaberry due to a death threat, before being released on bail.
Revealing that Corbett is now in a relationship with an older woman which has “brought a degree of maturity and insight into his life”, Mr Mulholland said the incident has proved to be a “stark wake-up call” for both Corbett and his family.
Regarding the offences, the barrister branded the articles found as “innoculous” and said the charges were “at the low end of the spectrum” of terrorist offences.
During today’s sentencing, Judge Kerr said that whilst the custody threshold had been passed, he was taking into account both Corbett’s age at the time, and also the fact he has already served seven months in prison.
Before releasing Corbett, the Judge warned him to “steer clear or criminal behaviour” or risk being sent back to prison.