Man sentenced to ten years following discovery of Tyrone explosives cache

Wednesday 15 January 2014 22.02
36-year-old Gavin Coyle was given a ten-year sentence at Belfast Crown Court
36-year-old Gavin Coyle was given a ten-year sentence at Belfast Crown Court

A dissident republican who admitted possessing a large cache of guns and explosives has been sentenced to ten years in prison.

Gavin Coyle, 36, from Omagh, Co Tyrone, was arrested in 2011 when detectives investigating the murder of newly qualified policeman Ronan Kerr discovered the arms dump in a lock-up garage in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

Items seized included semtex plastic explosive, four AK47 assault rifles, ammunition and magazines; a booster for an RPG rocket, three bomb timer units, a number of electronic incendiary devices, components of an improvised PRIG grenade, explosive powder and detonating cord.

Last year, Coyle, from Culmore Park, pleaded guilty to possession of explosives and firearms with intent to endanger life and membership of a proscribed organisation, namely the group that styles itself as the "new IRA".

Passing sentence at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Corinne Philpott said half of the ten-year term would be spent behind bars and the remainder on licence.

Constable Kerr, 25, was killed in April 2011 when a booby trap bomb exploded under his car outside his home in Omagh.

No-one has been convicted in connection with the attack, which was claimed by members of the new IRA.

As a Catholic and Gaelic games enthusiast, Mr Kerr was apparently targeted as part of the dissident strategy to scare people from a nationalist background away from joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Detectives have widened the probe to include 16 other crimes blamed on gangs belonging to the dissident group, with the discovery of the Coalisland arms dump considered a significant element of the inquiry.

It was uncovered within days of the police officer's murder.

Coyle was forensically linked to the weapons store by footprint analysis.

In the wake of Coyle's sentencing, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris insisted the investigation into the dissident republican group was far from over.

"The Mountjoy Road arms find (Coalisland) is one of the biggest in recent years," he said.

"On one very important level, it has saved lives and significantly disrupted a terrorist group.

"On another, more strategic, level, it forms part of the police investigation into a series of linked incidents which include Constable Kerr's murder.

"Although we have yet to bring charges for Ronan's murder, this investigation, which is the largest in the PSNI's history, is far from over.

“Detectives in Serious Crime Branch have linked a total of 17 incidents to the same network of individuals and terrorist groupings.

These include attempts to murder other police officers, a bomb attack, arms finds and armed robberies.

"We have made progress and we believe there is potential to bring other individuals before the courts. But we are not complacent. We recognise the considerable challenges remaining in this lengthy and complicated investigation.

"We will continue to pursue a comprehensive forensic strategy through all the strands of these linked incidents to ensure we maximise their investigative potential."