Northern Ireland

Belfast pair guilty of having loaded gun

Two Belfast men caught with a loaded revolver in a car three years ago have been convicted of having the gun under suspicious circumstances.

However, they were cleared of having the gun with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property.

Thomas Rooney, 23, and Cathal Francis Donal Kerr, 21, were arrested after police stopped their car on west Belfast's Stewartstown Road.

A third man, Paul Shaw, 36, was acquitted of all charges.

Belfast Crown Court Judge Gordon Kerr, ruled he could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Mr Shaw, from Clondarragh Street, Belfast.

Rooney of Glasvey Close and Kerr, of Gardenmore Road, were released on continuing bail before sentencing next month.

DNA profiles

After stopping the car on 9 March 2010, police found the loaded .38 revolver in the rear passenger side footwell.

Rooney was the driver, Kerr was sitting directly behind him, while Mr Shaw was beside him.

During their trial, the court heard that in police interviews all three men denied knowing anything about the gun with Mr Shaw and Kerr claiming that they had only just got a lift in the car owned by Rooney's mother through a Motability scheme.

However, when the firearm was forensically tested, a mixed profile of Rooney and Kerr's DNA was found on the weapon.

The only thing linking Mr Shaw was his presence in the car, and the gun in his passenger footwell beside where he was sitting.

However, Judge Kerr, in his ruling before the non-jury court, said he could not discount the possibility of the gun ending up in that position "in a way or at a time" when Mr Shaw was not present.

Turning to Rooney and Kerr, the judge said given their mixed DNA profiles found on the weapon, their presence in the car and their failure to give evidence, he could draw inferences as to their guilt and that they were "in joint possession of the firearm, either together or with a third person".

However, Judge Kerr ruled the finding of guilt was only in relation to possessing the handgun under suspicious circumstances, and not on the more serious charge of possession with intent to endanger life.

The judge said while the gun was in transit and loaded and ready for firing, "there is no evidence that this was a terrorist operation which would be relevant".

"Although the evidence suggests some operation was afoot requiring the use of the weapon, the court is not in a position to be sure to the requisite standard what the operation was," Judge Kerr said.

He added that in the circumstances he could not "be sure behind a reasonable doubt that the defendants, or either of them, personally intended to use the firearm to endanger life or to enable another to do so".