Man to be sentenced for four terror offences

A west Belfast man convicted in a non-jury trial of terrorist offences linked to the discovery of ammunition and explosives in the attic of a house was remanded into custody on Thursday.

Kevin Anthony McLaughlin (38) was informed by Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland that he will be sentenced for four offences next week.

Following a short Diplock trial held at Belfast Crown Court last month, the Crown claimed McLaughlin was forensically linked to a large bag containing items in smaller plastic bags located during the search of a property in Twinbrook on November 22, 2015.

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Amongst the items in the bag were three mercury tilt switches, around 700 cartridges, detonators and a magazine for an AK47

The Crown’s case was that McLaughlin, from Ballymurphy Drive, had no links to the house that was searched, but that his palm and finger prints were present on some of the bags containing the items.

Swabs were also taken from the handles and knot of a plastic bag, a mixed DNA profile was obtained, and the major contributor to that profile was McLaughlin.

Also found during the search was a Paypoint receipt, located at the bottom of the big bag, which indicated a cash payment made at a shop on Springhill Avenue on March 28, 2015 bearing the name ‘E McLaughlin’ and with an address at Ballymurphy Drive.

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McLaughlin was arrested, and when he was interviewed in February 2017, he declined to answer any questions. He also declined to give evidence during the trial, where he faced five charges including possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances, possessing firearms and ammunition in suspicious circumstances and possessing ammunition designed to penetrate armour plating or body armour.

Giving his judgment, Judge McFarland cited the evidence against McLaughlin as “circumstantial” and said he had “carefully considered” what the forensic evidence proved.

Regarding the fingerprint and palm print evidence on the plastic bags, Judge McFarland said it proved McLaughlin touched the bags, but didn’t prove when this occurred or what the bags contained. He also noted the presence of DNA could be due to “a secondary method, such as transfer”.

However, the judge also said that when considering the “accumulation of evidence”, such as the prints and the presence of the Paypoint receipt which bore his address, this strengthened the Crown’s case.

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The Belfast Recorder told the court: “The fact that there are four pieces of evidence found together connecting the defendant with the explosive substances, firearms and ammunition could not be explained away by coincidence.”

In addition, Judge McFarland noted McLaughlin’s silence since his arrest. Saying it was his view the Crown’s case “does call from an answer from him”, Judge McFarland noted that since his arrest in February 2017, McLaughlin “has had two years to consider an explanation” but that none had been provided.

The judge then said he was “firmly convinced” McLaughlin was in possession of the bag found in the attic, that he had “sufficient control of it” and that he “must have had knowledge of its contents”.

Judge McFarland found McLaughlin guilty of four offences, including possessing the items in suspicious circumstances.

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He then acquitted McLaughlin of possessing the items with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, saying he could not be sure of McLaughlin’s intention and could therefore not convict on this charge.

McLaughlin will be sentenced next Thursday.

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