Dissident suspect on remand for 22 months refused bail
AN alleged member of a dissident republican 'punishment' gang has been refused bail after a court was told he was out on licence at the time for committing similar offences.
Belfast Crown Court heard on Thursday that Robert Warnock O'Neill (39), of Bingnian Drive in west Belfast, has been on remand awaiting trial for almost 22 months on six paramilitary-related offences.
He is accused of membership of a proscribed organisation, namely Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH), conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm with intent, false imprisonment, making or collecting information on alleged drug dealers, possession of a firearm with intent, and having it in suspicious circumstances.
It is alleged the offences were committed on dates between December 1, 2013 and June 25, 2014.
Prosecution barrister Robin Steer told the court that O'Neill was one of five defendants linked to a property at Aspen Walk in Dunmurry where police obtained covert recordings of conversations.
He said O'Neill was linked to the property on two dates, the first being in December 2013 when his voice was heard discussing "paramilitary strategy and the targeting of drug dealers on behalf of ONH''.
On February 14, 2014 he was also linked by voice analysis to the house where a "suspected drug dealer, called 'PB', was being imprisoned and was being aggressively interrogated by this defendant and two others''.
The prosecution lawyer said O'Neill's co-defendants have now all been released on bail but the Crown were objecting to his release given his record.
The court heard O'Neill had a conviction in November 1998 for hijacking a bus armed with a firearm on the Glen Road in west Belfast.
Mr Steer said he was also sentenced to two and a half years in jail and three years on licence in November 2011 after being convicted of attempted wounding and possession of a firearm.
"This related to an attempted punishment in the St James's Road area of west Belfast where a male was shot and and slightly injured,'' he said.
"During the course of this incident the revolver jammed and police arrived on the scene and detained four males in a car and seized a firearm.
"At the time of these current offences for which he is awaiting trial, he was on licence for attempted wounding and possession of a firearm.''
Defence solicitor Philip Breen said O'Neill had now been on remand for almost 22 months and there was no prospect in the "forseeable future'' of a trial date.
He told Judge Gordon Kerr that he had been granted compassionate bail in May 2015 for several hours when £50,000 was put up as surety.
"I have spoken to my client's brother who is prepared to put a £5,000 cash surety to secure his release on the same stringent terms as his four co-accused who I am told have not breached any of their bail conditions since their release which is not to have contact with each other or the witness 'PB'."
Judge Kerr said he was aware that co-defendants had been released on strict terms given their lengthy period on remand, but O'Neill had been on licence for less than a year when he allegedly committed these further offences.
"Given the risk to the public and also the risk of re-offending, I refuse this application for bail,'' he said.