Northern Ireland news

Man who manufactured explosives for dissident republican arms dumps fails in bid to secure reduced prison term

Lehd, of Seahill Road in Larne

A MAN who worked with a Royal Marine to manufacture explosives for dissident republican arms dumps has failed in a bid to secure a reduced prison term.

Niall Lehd (33) appealed his sentence of 24 years behind bars and an extended period of five years on licence for involvement in making bombs and other munitions found buried in hides around his hometown of Larne, Co Antrim.

Some of the lethal weapons and component parts had never previously been located or used in Northern Ireland.

Lehd, who was implicated by rogue serviceman Ciaran Maxwell, claimed his sentence was manifestly excessive and based on a flawed assessment of his dangerousness.

But judges in the Court of Appeal rejected all grounds of challenge.

Lord Justice McCloskey said: "The two men, in essence, constituted an independent engineering team supplying explosive devices to dissident republicans."

Lehd, from Seahill Road in Larne, and Maxwell (36) grew up together in the same housing estate.

In 2016 plastic barrels were discovered buried in the ground which contained mines, explosive projectiles, pipe bombs, handguns and ammunition, improvised detonators, timer power units and command wires.

Maxwell, still a serving member of the Royal Marines at the time, was forensically connected to the arms dumps, admitted his part in sourcing and making the munitions, and alerted police to the location of seven other hides.

He was subsequently sentenced 23 years for terrorist offences at the Old Bailey in London.

Maxwell also revealed Lehd's role from 2011 until arrested in February 2013 for previous explosives charges.

The pair had researched websites, using the Dark Web for greater security, as part of the manufacturing scheme.

Despite initial denials, Lehd admitted a charge of engaging in the preparation of terrorist acts.

Prosecutors described him as a man with long-standing republican sympathies who wilfully took part in making and storing explosive devices capable of causing multiple deaths.

The trial judge highlighted the "murderous intent" of the items seized, many of which were ready to use, and the careful planning involved.

Based on Lehd being assessed a dangerous offender, an extended custodial sentence was imposed.

Defence lawyers argued that insufficient credit was given for his guilty plea, and claimed the trial judge wrongly concluded that his offending involved an intent to cause multiple deaths.

But dismissing the appeal, Lord Justice McCloskey identified no flaws in the sentencing.

Citing the prosecution case, he said: "The nature of the harm to which the offence was directed is particularly serious. The harm which could have been caused by the offending included multiple deaths, injury and damage to property."

The judge added: "Those involved in dissident groups will be likely to have strong motivations of a political character which drives them towards seeking to realise their goals by violent means.

"They are likely to be impervious to change."

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