Northern Ireland

Armagh man jailed after mortar find

A photograph of part of the home-made mortar which was found in a derelict house in September 2016 Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Police released a photograph of part of the home-made mortar found in a derelict house in Lurgan in September 2016

A County Armagh man has been jailed for six years following the discovery of an armour-piercing mortar.

Luke O'Neill, 25, of Silverwood Green, Lurgan, pleaded guilty to two counts of the attempted possession of explosives.

The device was found by undercover police investigating suspected dissident republican activity in the Lurgan area in 2016.

O'Neill was a "vulnerable patsy manipulated by more sinister people", Belfast Crown Court heard.

A senior prosecutor said undercover police officers observed O'Neill carrying a camouflage rucksack between two addresses in Lurgan in August and September.

He said the officers found the rucksack in the attic of the second property in Woodland Avenue and discovered an "improvised forward projectile explosive device'' and detonator.

Designed to "penetrate armour"

The prosecutor said the device was designed to "penetrate armour'' and would have been capable of firing once when connected to a battery.

He added that it was the first time such a device was observed in Northern Ireland.

The court heard officers replaced the device with an "inert surrogate device'', which O'Neill later removed from the loft.

Police believed the device was to have been used in an attack on the Tullygally Road with the use of a 40 feet long command wire.

"The device could have been placed close to the road and the bomber could lie in wait in the shrubbery at a safe distance to detonate the device,'' the prosecutor said.

The court heard O'Neill was arrested in September 2016 and was questioned on 23 occasions over five days but "remained silent throughout''.

'Vulnerable patsy'

"In a prepared statement he denied being a member of the IRA," the prosecutor added.

The prosecutor accepted that O'Neill was guilty of the attempted possession of the explosive device.

"The device had been made inert and police had control of the main, sophisticated device which prevented any injuries or death," he said.

"There was no evidence this defendant was involved in the construction of the device. He was responsible for transporting the device from the house to the deployment area."

A defence lawyer said O'Neill was a "vulnerable patsy who was manipulated by more sinister people not before the court'' because of mental health and addiction issues.

He described O'Neill as a "courier... he did not know the nature of the device but anyone who couriers something like that is extremely foolish''.

Judge David McFarland told O'Neill: "You were responsible for moving the device from storage to an area where it could have been deployed and then removing it back to its storage.''

He said the main device "could have caused serious injury or death''.