Northern Ireland

Man accused over weapons found in Derry ‘linked to New IRA’, court hears

The man appeared in court via videolink (PA)
The man appeared in court via videolink (PA) The man appeared in court via videolink (PA)

A man charged with the possession of weapons, including soviet grenade heads, explosives and ammunition, is “linked to the New IRA”, a court has heard.

Derry Magistrates’ Court heard a belief that the weapons were being moved for the dissident republican terrorist organisation.

John Kelly, 43, of Columbcille Court in Derry, is facing six charges around the possession of firearms and explosives.

The court heard that the items were seized by police last week as part of an operation in which 16 officers were injured during public unrest.

The charges include possession of explosive with intent to endanger life on September 7, named as soviet grenade heads, plastic explosive and two electric detonators, and a charge around possession with intent of a Browning short barrelled firearm and a quantity of assorted ammunition, and a charge around possession with intent of a Tokarev short-barrelled firearm.

Kelly appeared before the city’s magistrates’ on Thursday morning via videolink.

He did not appear to respond when asked to confirm his name and date of birth, or whether he understood the charges.

A police officer told the court he believed he could connect the accused to the charges.

An application for bail was made.

The officer said that during a search of a property in the Southway area of Derry on September 7 a Tokarev gun was found in a plastic bag in the roof space.

He said from an analysis of a mobile phone which belonged to Kelly, he received two phone calls which police believe alerted him to police searches and “initiated a sequence of events”, including a flurry of phone calls and text messages to his co-accused Gerard Kelly, who appeared before the court on Tuesday.

“All of these phone calls and text messages are unanswered. The messages appeared to show concern and read such as: ‘Answer asap’, ‘answer me, it’s in’, ‘hurry up’, ‘Jesus, answer’,” he said.

He said that around the same time, the phone was used to contact another co-accused, Shannon Kelly, who appeared before the court on Tuesday.

“Again the texts show concern, such as: ‘Do you know where he is? I need him ASAP’, and starts asking about keys to a flat.

“Police believe the defendant is desperately trying to locate Gerard Kelly to initiative movement of firearms and explosives to Shannon Kelly’s home address.

“This is further evidenced in later phone communications, forensic and witness evidence.”

The officer detailed the finding later of a purple sports bag in a bin at the rear of Shannon Kelly’s address at Creevagh Heights which contained an “arsenal”.

“During the search operation there was significant public disorder which resulted in numerous police vehicles damaged and 16 officers injured,” the officer said.

He said DNA evidence indicates a likelihood of a match with the Tokarev gun, and Kelly cannot be excluded from the profile on the Browning.

Further testing is ongoing on the weapons.

“John Kelly was interviewed a total of nine times since his arrest, totalling almost five hours in which he made no comment to the questions put to him and offered no explanation for any of the evidence put to him,” the officer added.

He said he believes Kelly was working to store and transport weapons for the New IRA.

Police objected to bail for John Kelly, pointing out the risk of flight and diminished family support, contending he is a “person of trust” within the New IRA. There was also concern over the potential intimidation of witnesses and said he is currently under threat.

“The applicant is linked to the New IRA … he is a person of trust to this terrorist organisation,” the officer said.

“While in police custody, police have received information that the defendant may be in danger of retaliatory action by dissident republicans.”

A defence lawyer took issue with the assertion of diminished family support, telling the court that multiple members of the family were in the court’s public gallery during the hearing.

“The defendant maintains his innocence, denies any involvement within the matters before the court and consistent with those denials, when his property was searched, nothing of relevance was found, no weapons and no munitions,” he said.

He pointed out it is likely to take years before the case is heard in a trial, arguing for bail to be granted in the interim, adding he was strong network of family and friends in Derry, and dismissing the argument that flight is likely.

“In terms of the interference with the course of justice – the key evidence in this case is the mobile phone and the weapons, and there are no steps the defendant can take to interfere with the integrity of those items if he were to be granted bail,” he added.

District Judge Barney McElholm refused bail.

“There is a clear prima facia case against this defendant,” he said.

He said there is a risk of interference with witnesses and a risk of further offending.

“People who are blinded by ideology won’t accept the rule of law … won’t even answer simple questions about their identity and age,” he said.