Gardai caught a gun thief after he dropped a cigarette butt at the scene of a daring heist in which 20 high-tech replica guns were stolen.

The theft of the guns from the Donegal Airsoft gun range in Newtowncunningham in August 2010 sent shockwaves through the local Garda force.

The weapon haul included seven Tauras pistols – almost exact replicas used by the emergency response unit across the country.

Gardai feared the guns were going to be sold to the highest bidder and used in robberies and other subversive crimes.

Details of the burglary were given at Letterkenny Circuit Court as Robert Orr faced charges in connection with the incident.

The court heard how Orr, 24, of Gaeltex, Oldtown, Letterkenny and two other men used a sledge hammer to smash their way into the premises on the night of August 23rd, 2010.

Garda Sergeant Michael Galvin told the court how smoking was strictly banned at the premises because gas was used in the guns.

He said Gardai could trace the cigarette butt found back to Orr and also revealed that hidden CCTV cameras showed footage of Orr in which he was very recognisable.

A distinctive tattoo of a scorpion on his neck also singled the accused out.

Acting ion information Gardai tracked Orr to an address at Glenwood Park in Letterkenny where they discovered a number of white pellets used with airsoft guns outside the home of a relative of Orr.

Orr arrived in a taxi and was arrested by Gardai but was completely unco-operative and denied all knowledge of the robbery.

A follow-up operation uncovered 13 of the stolen guns from an attic in a derelict house in St Johnston a couple of days later.

Garda Galvin, a former detective, said they were relieved to find the weapons which were valued at €5,184.

“These pistols (the Tauras) are almost identical to the real thing. I was ten years with special branch and if that weapon was pointed at me I would be taking a certain course of action,” admitted Sgt Galvin.

He also revealed that a number of the weapons are still unaccounted for and also that one was used in another robbery.

Garda Galvin said that despite being interviewed a number of times, father-of-three Orr has refused to say where the remaining weapons are.

Defence barrister Fiona Crawford said her client simply did not know where the other replica weapons are now.

Judge John O’Hagan said that up until now Orr’s previous offences are for ‘run of the mill’ crimes such as no insurance and public order.

“This one is a biggie – a big, big offence and it is recognised as carrying a 14 year sentence by the Oireachtas,” he said.

He added that these replica weapons are the same as the real things to any unsuspecting person such as a postmistress or someone working in a bank or a supermarket.

“To be confronted by someone with one of these would be a harrowing experience and they would not know it would be anything other than the real thing,” he said.

Judge O’Hagan also heard how Orr also viciously assaulted another man with a wooden stick at a flat in Letterkenny on July 5th last while out on bail.

He sentenced Orr to three years for the burglary and another two years for the assault and ordered the sentences to run consecutively meaning Orr was sentenced to five years in jail.

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