Gunrunners sentenced by Algarve court

By Roger Green [email protected]

Four men involved in a plot to buy firearms, allegedly to send to Ireland to supply a terrorist group linked to the Irish Republican Army, have been found guilty of the trafficking of arms and given custodial sentences by a criminal court in Olhão.

But the allegations that the accused men had connections with the IRA could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt, said the panel of judges.

Two of the accused, Portuguese Paulo Guerreiro and Irishman Conor Sheehan, were each jailed for four years and 10 months.

Their lawyers are analysing the summing up by the judges with a view to lodging an appeal.

The other two, Portuguese António Mestre and Irishman James Rice, were each jailed for three years and nine months, the sentences suspended as their involvement in the crime, according to the judges, was on a less determined and persistent scale than those accused with them.

A fifth accused said to be the ringleader of the group, John McCann, is in Ireland awaiting extradition to Portugal.

During the trial, which took place under heavy police security, the prosecution revealed that flare guns were bought in Portugal and modified to take real ammunition.

It was believed they were acquired with the intention of transporting them to Ireland to be used to cause disturbances during the Orange March.

The Orange March is a Protestant event which takes place each year in Ireland on July 12, to commemorate the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over his Catholic rival James and has on occasion in the past been a flashpoint for violent demonstrations.

Police investigations began in May 2011 and they were hot on the scent of the gang after the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) tapped a phone call between Sheehan and Guerreiro in which the Irishman allegedly said he was in touch with the IRA and urged Guerreiro to have the guns ready as soon as possible.

Soon after, Rice arrived in the Algarve in a camper van and settled in at a campsite in Olhão, where Guerreiro delivered a box containing what looked like wine bottles but were, in fact, 11 guns and 250 rounds of ammunition, which were seized by the PJ.

The prosecution claimed that Rice confessed to police that he would have received €3,000 as payment to transport the guns to Ireland but the judges decided there was insufficient proof to corroborate this evidence.