Northern Ireland news

'Lone-wolf' dissident Christine Connor 'never intended to plead guilty'

Christine Connor arriving at Laganside Courts last year

A SO-CALLED lone-wolf dissident republican jailed for trying to murder police officers felt she was "drowning or suffocating" when allegedly advised to plead guilty against her wishes, she has told a court.

Christine Connor claimed yesterday she always intended to contest charges related to a plot said to involve posing online as a Swedish model to lure men into helping her plan to kill police.

The 32-year-old is challenging her conviction on the basis that her plea was equivocal and should never have been accepted.

She told three senior judges at the Court of Appeal that her former lawyers had made a "mammoth error of judgment".

The north Belfast woman insisted: "My intention was always to do one thing - to plead not guilty."

In June last year Connor received a 16-year prison sentence for paramilitary offences.

Charges against her included a role in home-made bomb attacks on police patrols lured to the city's Crumlin Road in May 2013.

She allegedly placed a hoax 999 call and claimed a woman living in the area was in danger.

Although the grenades detonated in the first attack no-one was injured.

Twelve days later one policeman was injured when more bombs were thrown.

Detectives built a case against her based on DNA on gloves found close to the scene and CCTV footage.

They also found a mobile phone, SIM cards and a laptop stuffed inside the mattress of a bed at her home.

According to police, Connor was not aligned to any dissident republican organisations and acted alone.

They also said she had exploited two men to further her aims - both of whom later took their own lives.

Her efforts to dupe them allegedly included using online photographs of a Swedish model and creating a fake social media profile.

Connor was also jailed for possessing explosives with intent to endanger life and preparation of terrorist acts.

During her arraignment last year she replied to each of the charges: "I am not guilty, but on advice I will plead guilty."

She is now attempting to have those convictions set aside by claiming the trial judge failed to intervene and examine ambiguities around her pleas.

Central to Connor's case are allegations about the advice she received from her former lawyers.

In evidence she claimed the issue of admitting the charges was first raised at a consultation on the day before her arraignment - triggering underlying anxiety disorders.

"More or less straight away I was informed that I should plead guilty," she told the court.

"I felt instantly that I was drowning or suffocating."

Connor claimed she was informed admissions could see her jail term halved, but as the meeting continued "a tsunami of fears" ran through her.

She said she was also advised that a trial would be a burden on both her and her mother.

The appeal judges heard Connor got no sleep that night and entered court the following day "in a bubble".

She described having a moment of clarity and then starting to hyperventilate as she walked towards the dock.

Asked by her new counsel what she had intended to do, she replied: "I was pleading not guilty, I was going to trial as is my right."

The appeal continues.

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