Northern Ireland

John Rankin: Ex-soldier escapes jail over bombs and guns

Belfast court complex at Laganside
Image caption The judge described Rankin's actions as "sheer stupidity" but said his motives were not "subversive or sinister"

A former soldier who pleaded guilty to making explosives under suspicious circumstances and having pistols has been given a suspended sentence.

John Rankin, a Falklands War veteran, had claimed that he made blast bombs and collected guns as a "hobby".

The 52-year-old's address was given in court as Maghaberry prison.

The judge described Rankin's actions as "sheer stupidity" but said his motives were not "subversive or sinister" nor connected to paramilitaries.

He told Belfast Crown Court that both the prosecution and defence accepted that it was a "an unusual, if not exceptional case", and that Rankin's account to police was "true, accurate and reflective of his culpability".

National Crime Agency

At an earlier hearing, Rankin had pleaded guilty to making explosives under suspicious circumstances and having three prohibited 9mm blank firing automatic pistols, without the authority of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Police found the pistols and "crude explosive devices" during a search of his former home in County Antrim on 24 January 2014.

Police had been tipped off by the National Crime Agency, who had intercepted a parcel of pistols in Birmingham addressed to Rankin.

Officers recovered the weapons still inside their boxes in the wardrobe of his bedroom.

"A further search was carried out of an outside shed and a yellow holdall was recovered. Inside it were a number of explosive devices which contained shrapnel. A forensic examination revealed they were viable devices," a prosecutor said,

Rankin later admitted buying the guns on the internet and "his intention was to mount them in cases and later sell them on for profit'', the court heard.

The prosecution said the explosive devices were made from "various household items'' and the ignition material was "extracted from fireworks''.

'Friends killed'

Although deemed viable explosive devices, the prosecution said they were in no way similar to devices that have been used by paramilitary organisations.

The court heard that police accept Rankin is a firearms and military enthusiast who made these explosives and bombs "as a hobby".

A defence barrister said Rankin joined the Army in 1978 and left the Royal Irish Regiment in 1993 as a corporal with an "exemplary service record''.

"He served in the Falklands War and witnessed a number of his friends being killed.

"In 2012, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering from depression, poor sleep, anxiety and waking up with cold sweats.''

He said that Rankin now fully accepted that he should have had a firearms certificate for the guns, adding: "There was nothing sinister about their possession.''

He added: "He accepts full responsibility and will not bother the court ever again. He has learned his lesson. There is no association with paramilitary organisation or any trace with them".

The judge said that Rankin had already spent considerable time in prison awaiting trial and jailing him would also deprive his step-daughter of her much needed full-time carer.

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