Saturday 16 December 2017

Court hears evidence of explosives on bus and bomb threats during Queen's visit six years ago

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Daniel Hickey

The Special Criminal Court has heard evidence of a incendiary bomb on a Dublin-bound passenger bus and bomb threats made during the State visit of Queen Elizabeth five years ago.

This was during the sentence hearing on Wednesday of Donal Billings (66), with an address at St Bridget’s Court, Drumlish, County Longford, found guilty last month by the three judge, non-jury court of the unlawful possession of an explosive substance at Longford railway station car park on May 16th, 2011.

He was further found guilty of four offences under the Criminal Law Act of 1976 of knowingly making false reports tending to show that an offence had been committed.

Billings was convicted of making a false report within the State on May 16, 2011, that bombs had been placed at Busáras in Dublin and at Sinn Féin's headquarters.

He was also convicted of making a false report on May 18 that two mortars were set for Dublin Castle, and with making a false report on May 20 that two bombs had been placed in the toilets at Cork airport.

The trial, which lasted two weeks, was heard in both English and Irish, after Billings had invoked his right to be tried in the Irish language.

At Wednesday's sentence hearing, Detective Inspector Pat Finlay, of Longford garda station, summarised the facts of the case.

He told prosecuting counsel Garnett Orange SC of a phonecall made to Longford garda station on May 16, 2011. The caller said that there was a bomb on a Dublin-bound Corduff Travel passenger bus, a second bomb on a bus at Busaras and a third bomb at Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin.

The Corduff Travel bus was stopped on Station Rd, Maynooth, and searched by gardai, who found a suspicious object in the luggage compartment.

The device, a combination of gunpowder and a two-litre bottle containing petrol, had the potential for "great destruction", the court heard.

Gardai also searched the Sinn Fein offices and the other bus. Nothing was found.

A further phonecall was made on May 18, threatening two mortars were set at Dublin castle for 8pm that evening.

The time and place coincided with a state banquet in the castle for Queen Elizabeth.

The caller said, "I'm a member of the Republican Brotherhood, Squad A. Two mortars are set for Dublin Castle at 8pm."

"This is for the Queen of blood and war of Iraq."

Searches were carried out but nothing was found.

A third phonecall, made at 3.15pm on May 20, threatened two bombs at Cork airport. Queen Elizabeth was due to fly out that afternoon from the airport. After a search, nothing was found.

The garda investigation had commenced three days earlier, focusing initially on the phone number used to make the calls.

The caller was using an 086 number, the SIM card for which, gardai discovered, was bought in an O2 shop in Longford shopping centre on May 16.

Further information was generated through analysis of mobile phone records and CCTV of the shopping centre and Longford railway station.

The investigations led to Billings being identified as a suspect.

A surveillance operation was put in place and on May 20, Billings was followed from his home in Drumlish to a LIDL carpark in Longford, where he was arrested.

His car was searched and a bag was found, containing the SIM card for the 086 phone number. On the packaging of the SIM card there was some handwriting, including Longford garda station's phone number, the registration number of the Corduff bus and the Irish words "Cor dubh".

Searching Billings, gardai found a mobile phone. During the trial the court heard evidence that the phone's IMEI, a 15 digit unique number which is used to identify mobile devices, had been used in conjunction with the 086 number.

Gardai also searched Billings' car and found a bottle of petrol and a makeshift funnel.

Billings was interviewed at Longford garda station, where he denied any involvement in the explosives or the phonecalls.

He said that he had found the SIM card on the ground of the carpark just before being arrested.

The court heard that Billings lived in Libya for four years.

He has two previous convictions, from Northern Ireland in 1973, for possession of explosives, for which he received concurrent sentences of eight and four years.

At the same time and related to the same matter he was also convicted of an offence against public order.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge Cormac Dunne, asked Mr Orange for clarification regarding the explosive found on the Corduff bus.

The court heard that detonation of the bomb would have resulted in the "complete destruction of the vehicle in question, by combustion".

Mr Justice Hunt commended Det Insp Finlay on a "well-executed, comprehensive investigation".

Máirtín O'Gibealláin SC, for Billings, asked the court to consider in mitigation his client's age and health.

He also said that Billings was seeking to be released on his own bond until after Christmas, to put his affairs in order.

The court refused his request. Mr Justice Hunt said that Billings had been convicted of a serious offence, that the trial had been pending since 2010, and that he was on bail for the entire length of the trial.

Billings was remanded in custody until December 15, when he will be sentenced.

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