Man guilty of possessing explosives at Finnstown House has conviction upheld on appeal

Man denied all charges during trial

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Man guilty of possessing explosives at Finnstown House has conviction upheld on appeal

The Four Courts

An alleged IRA bomb-maker, according to detectives, arrested after the discovery of a car bomb in the car park of a hotel near Celbridge has had his conviction for possessing an explosive substance upheld by the Court of Appeal. 

Samuel Devlin (59), from Northern Ireland but with a last address at the 'Golf Suite', Finnstown House Hotel and Resort, Lucan, was found guilty by the three-judge Special Criminal Court of possessing the explosive substance PETN at the hotel on May 11, 2014.

The three-week trial heard evidence from members of the Special Detective Unit that Devlin was a bomb maker for the IRA. Evidence of the car bomb, which was not linked to Devlin, was in the “background”, according to the trial court. 

Devlin, who had denied the possession charge, was sentenced to six years imprisonment on April 6, 2016. He lost an appeal against his conviction today, Thursday, July 6, on all grounds.

Giving judgment in the three-judge Court of Appeal, Mr Justice George Birmingham said Gardai searched Number 144, the 'Golf Suite', at Finnstown House Hotel and Resort in Lucan at around 10.25am on the date in question.

Devlin was present in the "apartment/chalet" when the Gardai entered. A large assortment of electronic items and "most significantly" 26 metres of detonator cord was found.

The detonator cord was hidden, wrapped in a towel inside a laptop case, located on a shelf. Fingerprint evidence connected Devlin with the screen of the laptop inside the bag and DNA evidence linked him to the plug.

The explosive substance Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (PETN) was located within the core of the cord. It had a bright orange label which said "Explos" with the balance of the word, the letters "ive", apparently torn off, the judgment stated.

It was the prosecution's case that Devlin was residing at the suite at that time. The room had been booked in the name of "Joe Murphy" since March 31.

Also found in the suite were two remote controlled quadcopters, one with a piece of timber attached to the underside, viewing goggles for a camera attached to one of the quadcopters, cable ties and wires.

Shopping bags were found to contain disposable gloves, a red coloured dye, a roll of multi-core cable, wires, battery chargers, a voltage supply, a mini key switch, mini relay, a Gortner receiver, batteries, screwdrivers, glue, insulation tape, bell wire, bulb tester, five glass test tubes, light-activated switches, a Stanley knife, pliers and snips.

Drawers in a bedside locker contained a soldering iron and solder, batteries, bulbs, a fishing line, wire cutters, wire, an A4 writing pad, a pen torch, a nail clippers and pencil sharpener.

Gardai were aware Devlin occupied the hotel room from May 9. His presence there was a concern to Detective Inspector William Hanrahan, a long-serving member of the Special Detective Unit, because he believed Devlin to be "linked to bomb-making", Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Late on Saturday May 10, Gardai felt the situation altered "very considerably". A car, which had been stolen earlier in the border area, was located in the car park of Finnstown House Hotel containing a large homemade explosive device.

It became urgent for the Gardai to obtain a search warrant, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

He said the Court of Appeal was "slightly surprised" Devlin's lawyers argued that there were no circumstances of urgency.

They argued that the warrant should have been condemned by the trial court, and the evidence of what was found in the bedroom excluded, because it was obtained at 3.30am and not executed until 10.25am.

Devlin's lawyers, led by Blaise O'Carroll SC, also challenged the warrant on the basis that the Chief Superintendent who issued it was Det Insp Hanrahan's first cousin and therefore, they claimed, not independent of the investigation as required.

Mr Justice Birmingham said it was “almost impossible to imagine a situation of greater urgency than that triggered by the discovery of a car bomb in a hotel car park”.

"This country, as well as its neighbours, and indeed countries across the world, have seen the devastation that can be caused by terrorists with access to explosives."

Mr Justice Birmingham said Det Insp Hanrahan had enquired, as is standard practice, as to when a judge of the District Court would be available to get a warrant and was told it would be 10.30 or 11am on the Sunday morning.

In the situation of “extreme urgency” that existed, he did not deem it practical to wait until then and decided to invoke the power to obtain a warrant from a Garda officer. He was entitled to make the judgment he did, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

He said the warrant was executed minutes after Devlin was observed entering the premises and the Chief Superintendent who issued the warrant knew nothing of the investigation until contacted by Det Insp Hanrahan. That they were cousins was "quite irrelevant".

Turning to other grounds, Mr Justice Birmingham said the court rejected a challenge to the admissibility of DNA evidence based on information provided to Devlin while in custody.

Furthermore, a contention that the trial court erred in equating occupation of the suite with possession of the PETN was also rejected. There was ample evidence to support the findings of the trial court, the Court of Appeal held.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice John Hedigan, said the court was not persuaded that the trial was "in any way" unsatisfactory or that the decision was "in any way" unsafe.

The court therefore dismissed the appeal.