Names of police officers and judges found in bomber’s prison cell

Connor Hughes is currently serving an 11-year sentence for explosives offences
Connor Hughes is currently serving an 11-year sentence for explosives offences

A search of a convicted dissident republican bomber’s cell at a top security jail uncovered the names of police officers and judges, a court has heard

Belfast Crown Court was told that Connor Hughes, 24, who is originally from Altan Close, Dunmurry, west Belfast, was eight months into an 11-year jail sentence when staff at Maghaberry Prison carried out the search.

Prosecuting barrister Ian Tannahill said prison staff conducted the search on October 2, 2015 and “uncovered a list of names of 16 police officers and eight members of the judiciary”.

Mr Justice Treacy was told that the search was carried out on Hughes’s cell at Roe House inside the Co Antrim prison.

“That’s a part of the prison where Oglaigh na hEireaan (ONH) are held. The list was found among a number of documents, which included shopping lists for the prison tuck shop, inside an A4 pad.”

The documents were later handed over to the PSNI and the court heard that during interviews with detectives Hughes “did not answer any questions”.

Hughes was serving a sentence handed down in February 2015 for possession of explosives with intent to endanger life or damage property.

The sentence related to a police operation when PSNI officers stopped Hughes at the junction of the Glen Road and Shaws Road in west Belfast on March 27, 2014.

Hughes was carrying a holdall and when it was searched, the bag was found to contain “a number of wires and what was thought to be a firing pack”.

Officers immediately suspected this to be an improvised explosive device (IED) and Hughes was arrested under the Terrorism Act.

Mr Tannahill said that given Hughes’s previous conviction, it was the Crown case that “this information and information of this type would be useful to terrorists on the outside”.

He added: “It is right to say that this list related to the names of police officers and members of the judiciary and public buildings. There was no other sensitive information, like movements or that, contained in the list.

“It would certainly give cause for any person named on the list to have a level of concern and would clearly cause them concern to be told that their names were found in these circumstances.’’

Mr Tannahill told the judge it was the prosecution view that the sentencing range would have been one of between five to seven years in custody.

The prosecution lawyer pointed to a previous case of a British soldier who was jailed for four years in the 1990s for colluding with the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) in west Belfast by passing over the names of prominent republicans to target for murder.

Defence counsel Arthur Harvey QC disagreed with the prosecution on the sentencing range, saying Hughes’s offending was “at the lower level’’, adding that the sentencing range in his view was one of “two to six years”.

He also rejected a prosecution assertion that Hughes was a member of a terrorist organisation as “entirely speculative and it would be quite wrong for the court to take that as an aggravating factor in this case”.

Mr Harvey QC said that Hughes had been charged with possessing the document and “there is no link between this possession and then something further”.

Mr Justice Treacy was told that Hughes’s earliest release from this 11-year sentence was in September 2019.

“I don’t propose to sentence today. I want to review the authorities provided to me and I will pass sentence on Friday week,’’ said the judge.