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Appeal launched as bomb plot accused bailed despite arrest almost two years ago

Craigavon-Courthouse

A Lurgan man on remand for allegedly being part of a dissident Republican plot to kill police officers in 2016 was granted bail on Friday.

Luke O’Neill, 24, of Silverwood Green, appeared at Craigavon Magistrates’ for a bail application with him facing charges of attempted murder, possession of explosive weapons with the intention of endangering life, attempted possession of explosives and attempting to make explosives.

Court heard that the defendant had been linked to a dissident group through a covert police operation between the dates of August 30 and September 2 of 2016.

Police had been tipped that a mortar bomb was being stored at an address in the Lurgan area.

During their surveillance of the house O’Neill was connected to the alleged plot, with video and audio evidence placed in the house which showed the defendant, as a constable put it, “babysitting” the device.

O’Neill was subsequently arrested on September 21, 2016.

Over five days of interviews the defendant refused to make any comment.

A constable told the court “the defendant has no criminal record but we believe he has been groomed by dissidents”.

He went on to explain “he is a danger to public safety”, specifically noting his “lack of fear handling explosives” especially given his lack of knowledge.

Court heard that three co-accused were attached to O’Neill’s case and that all of them had been granted bail.

Deputy District Judge Des Perry told the constable “seriousness is not a reason to refuse bail”.

The constable stated that he feared O’Neill would be easily led back into similar offences as he was “easily manipulated”.

Judge Perry replied that he couldn’t “hold his clean record against him”.

It was also raised by the constable the fear that the defendant would use links in the south and further afield to leave the country.

This was countered by Judge Perry who explained that “none of the others connected have fled”.

Defence counsel claimed that it was unjust that O’Neill was not granted bail when those who were arrested on the same date and on the same charge sheet had been.

Court also heard that the defendant had previously attended Stranmillis teaching college in Belfast.

The defence told Judge Perry that “no criminal trial will happen in this calendar year”.

Judge Perry reiterated that “seriousness was no longer an objection to bail”, adding that “many of the constable’s points make no sense”.

He explained that the other three accused had been given bail due to delay in the trial and he would not allow O’Neill “to languish in jail for two and a half to three years”, a situation he described as “unacceptable”.

Bail was granted to the defendant under a number of conditions.

He was given a curfew between 8 am and 8pm, to be electronically tagged, to have no contact with co-accused or witnesses, to have no mobile phone, not to travel in a private motor vehicle, to surrender his passports (and not apply for a new one), to not attend any Republican rally or protest or leave Northern Ireland without given police a seven day notice.

The prosecution immediately filed a High Court appeal of this decision.

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