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Three Convicted of Plot to Kill Ulster Minister

October 28, 1988

WINCHESTER, England (AP) _ Two men and a woman, all from the Irish Republic, were convicted Thursday of conspiring to kill Britain’s top official for Northern Ireland.

In Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, police said a Soviet-made flamethrower capable of sending a jet of fire 80 yards was discovered in an IRA arms cache and could have come from Libya.

After 15 hours of deliberation, a jury at Winchester Crown Court determined by a 10-2 vote that Martina Shanahan, 22, and John McCann, 24, of Dublin and Finbarr Cullen, 27, of Maynooth conspired to murder Northern Ireland Secretary Tom King and other persons unknown.

They were to be sentenced Friday by Judge Swinton Thomas.

Police arrested the defendants Aug. 30, 1987, near King’s home in Wiltshire County, southern England - Ms. Shanahan and Cullen on adjoining land and McCann at a campsite 30 miles away.

Elisa King, the Cabinet member’s daughter, had noticed Cullen and Ms. Shanahan.

Prosecutor Alan Rawley said the tent at the trio’s campsite contained a list written on cigarette papers of politicians, soldiers and judges in mainland Britain. They also had 4,500 pounds (nearly $8,000), binoculars, a radio that could pick up police frequencies and a woollen hat with eyeholes, he said.

″The whole thing stinks to high heaven of a murderous plot to kill Mr. King if they could, or anybody else on that list if they could,″ Rawley declared.

He said they had the addresses and auto license numbers of people on the list, the names of military establishments and locations of offices of the governing Conservative Party.

No evidence was produced in the 14-day trial that the defendants belonged to the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which is fighting to drive the British from Northern Ireland, and no weapons or explosives were found.

A report by the British domestic news agency Press Association said the three had a history of support for Sinn Fein, the IRA’s legal political arm.

Belfast police said the flamethrower, the first weapon of its kind found in Northern Ireland, was under the stairs of an outbuilding on the grounds of a hospice for elderly women in Falls Road, a Roman Catholic area.

They said bomb-timers, ammunition and a cement-mixer, which can be used for mixing explosives, were found with it.

Staff members at the hospice refused comment on the police search.

Police spokesmen said they believed the weapon was part of the huge consignment of Libyan-supplied arms smuggled into Ireland.

In March, British and Irish officials said the IRA had received 150 tons of weapons from Libya in four shiploads in 1985 and 1986, including SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles that could be used to shoot down British army helicopters.

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