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Belfast woman's 'primary aim was to kill officers', court hears

Christine Connor Credit: Press Eye

A north Belfast woman accused of luring police to a bogus incident of domestic abuse had a "primary aim of killing police officers", a court heard on Tuesday.

As a senior barrister opened the Crown case against Christine Connor, the judge presiding over the non-jury trial was told there was a "combination of physical, forensic and circumstantial evidence" which would convince him of Connor's "overwhelming guilt."

Laganside Courts, Belfast Credit: Credit: UTV

Connor is also believed to have posed as a blonde Swedish model to strike up an online relationship with an English man accused of subsequently sending her component parts for pipe bombs.

The 34-year old has been charged with - and denies - six offences dating back to 2013. Connor is accused of two counts of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life, two counts of causing an explosion likely to endanger life, attempting to murder a police constable, and the preparation of terrorist acts.

It is the Crown's case that Connor undertook a trial run and threw a pipe-bomb in north Belfast on May 16, 2013 before launching a second attack at a police officer from an alleyway in the early hours of May 28, after luring police to the scene with a bogus 999 call.

Laganside Courts, Belfast

Belfast Crown Court heard Connor, whose address is the subject of a reporting restriction, was linked to the attacks via DNA evidence she left at the scene, CCTV footage and voice analysis.

Prosecuting QC Liam McCollum told Judge Kevin Finnegan that the evidence in the case was like the links of a chain, that the chain "is so strong it is unbreakable" and that when all the links are put together" it becomes a very powerful chain."

These links, he said, included a movie file found on a laptop which was concealed in a hole in the mattress of Connor's bed during a subsequent search of her home. The Crown say this clip, accompanied by a female commentator, is Connor undertaking a trial run.

Mr McCollum revealed Connor and a co-accused who is now deceased - Shrewsbury man Stuart Downes - were charged with terrorist offences in the wake of the two pipe bomb incidents.

The Crown prosecutor said that throughout the trial, the Crown would be presenting evidence which showed strong links between Mr Downes (31) and Connor. Mr McCollum said they met online and established a relationship in the early part of 2013, when Connor was posing as a "blonde, Swedish model" called Sanne Anderson.

Between February and May 2013, it is the Crown's case that Mr Downes "received pipe bomb parts and ensured they were delivered to Northern Ireland and to the defendant."

Judge Finnegan heard that the first pipe bomb incident occurred on May 16, 2013 when police received a 999 call. The female caller claimed that a device had been left on a wall at a house on the Ligoneil Road.

On that occasion, officers responded and at around 2am a short distance from the scene there were reports of a loud bang and a plume of smoke. Two scorch marks were left on the road, and an eye witness said he saw a'larger than average female' walking in the area.

Saying this women was Connor, Mr McCollum said other evidence which linked her to this first incident was voice analysis which concluded she made the 999 call, as well as messages she sent to Mr Downes.

The prosecutor said this was a "practice run" which Connor recorded and which was later found on her laptop. Mr McCollum said other evidence on her laptop included Google searches such as 'can sparklers be used for explosives?' as well as seeking information on pipe bombs.

The second incident occurred in the early hours of May 28,2013 when a woman calling herself Gemma rang the PSNI to tearfully claim she was the victim of domestic abuse.

Police attended a house on the Crumlin Road, and as one officer was knocking the front door, a pipe bomb was thrown at another officer from a nearby alleyway, who had to take cover.

Mr McCollum said the voice that made the 999 call was"consistent with Christine Connor", adding "the prosecution say it was either herself who threw the devices at the police, or it was part of a joint enterprise."

Witnesses to this incident recalled hearing two loud bangs and seeing a plump woman with dark hair in the area.

The prosecuting QC said CCTV also picked up a woman matching the same description, who can be seen carrying a shopping bag in the area before the blast, and without the bag after the explosion.

Mr McCollum said this woman was wearing a distinctive top"similar" to one seized during the search of Connor's home.

The Crown also say that other items found close to the scene bore Connor's DNA. This includes her DNA on a Tesco shopping bag, on a pair of gloves recovered from the alleyway and from a hooded top.

Imprints from the sole of a woman's boot also matched a shoe imprint left in dog faeces in the alleyway, while a Nokia later linked to the 999 call was found in a garden on the Crumlin Road.

Two calls claiming responsibility were made later than day by a man who said "we are the Irish Republican Movement ... and these attacks will be frequent and often." Mr McCollum said these calls were made by a man using a phone box in Shrewsbury.

Connor was arrested in the aftermath of the second incident, with Mr McCollum saying there was "plenty of evidence to show there was a lethal intention" by Connor.

She refused to answer police questions, but during her seventh interview, in a pre-prepared statement Connor said she was a member of Weightwatchers, and that she was in the area in the early hours as she was out walking and taking exercise. She also said she heard two loud bangs which caused her to drop her phone.

Concluding the opening of the Crown case, Mr McCollum cited the evidence against the accused as "overwhelming" and pointed to a "clear commitment ...with a primary aim of killing police officers."