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Couple cleared over guns findCouple cleared over guns find
Tuesday, 12th October 2004

A Fermanagh couple were cleared today of hiding a huge arsenal of weapons and explosives for dissident republicans.

Lord Justice Campbell acquitted 52-year-old Michael Joseph Lavelle and his 47-year-old wife Mary after accepting legal argument from defence QCs Arthur Harvey and Seamus Tracey they had no case to answer.

Belfarmy uncovered the guns, bullets and bomb making materials in five separate "hides" in and around the couple`s Lettergreen Road in Donagh near Lisnaskea, during a two-day search on February 21 and 22 last year.

Also found in a pantry in the house were a metal rod and a tube which a forensic explosives expert claimed was a "component for an explosive device" and in a lean-to shed traces of explosives were uncovered, together with green paint which was allegedly used to paint a roll of flex found in one of the hides.

Prosecuting QC Terence Mooney had claimed the couple "were either principals in that they stored these items themselves, perhaps with the assistance of others or that they were accessories in that they knowingly permitted other people to store these items in the various locations".

However, Lord Justice Campbell acquitted both Lavelles of possessing the "component for an explosive device" with intent, and under suspicious circumstances for lack of evidence.

The judge also cleared Michael Lavelle, for the same reason, of possessing the explosive components and firearms and ammunition recovered from the hides.

Acquitting the couple Lord Justice Campbell said before they could be convicted the prosecution would have to prove not only had they knowingly had the items in their possession, but also that they knew they were explosive substances, something which the "experienced police officer" who found them had not realised himself.

The judge said at the time, in addition to Mr and Mrs Lavelle, their two sons, Emmet (26) and Daniel (19) and two young daughters, aged 13 and 10 also lived in the house.

He added although other items uncovered in the house, including unused number plates for a destroyed car, balaclavas, disposable suits and berets, "may raise considerable grounds for suspicion", at the end of the day he could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt the couple knew they were in possession of explosive substances.

"In the absence of any further evidence I consider that the accused should be acquitted," said Lord Justice Campbell.

Acquitting Mr Lavelle of possessing the explosives and guns found in the hides uncovered "within a reasonable distance" of his home, the judge said the issue was whether there was any evidence to connect him with the bunkers.

Lord Justice Campbell said while it was "highly probable" that the traces of explosives and paint found in the lean-two shed could have come from materials uncovered in two of the hides, even taking this "evidence at its highest", no "jury" properly directed could convict Lavelle.

He added that the "jury" could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Lavelle was the person living in the house who could be "associated" either with green paint on the flex, or the explosives.

Lord Justice Campbell said since he had found there was "insufficient evidence" concerning those materials, and since he could not find and did not find any evidence to support the remaining charges against Levelle, he would accede to the defence application and acquit him of all further charges.

Source: UTV

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