Wednesday 21 August 2019

Two men found guilty of possessing 167kg of explosives by Special Criminal Court

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Alison O'Riordan

A man's denial that he knew anything about 167kg of explosives found inside his "heavily laden" car - including detonators sticking out from the passenger seat - has been found to be "totally incredible" by the Special Criminal Court.

Armed gardai found four bags of explosives in the boot of a black Skoda Fabia car and 18 detonators under the front passenger seat when they stopped the vehicle on the Naas Road, the court has heard.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt said today that the facts of the case proved that both men were "in joint control" over the substances found in the car and that they were guilty of having the explosives.  

John Roche (55), of Bridgefoot Street, Dublin 8 and John Brock (46), with an address at Cushlawn Park, Tallaght, Dublin 24 had both pleaded not guilty to possession of 57kg of homemade explosives, consisting of ammonium nitrate fuel mix, and thirty-eight 2.5kg rolls of Kemegel industrial explosives at Naas Road, Dublin 12, on April 13, 2016.

Delivering judgment today, Mr Justice Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge Patricia Ryan and Judge Ann Ryan, said that Roche had travelled from his home in the inner city to Behans Quarry on Windmillhill in Rathcoole, Co Dublin “for a specific purpose”.

“That was not to consume and purchase fast food as he asserted to gardai but to travel to the quarry for the purpose of collecting materials and he was apprehended on his return,” said Mr Justice Hunt.

The Skoda car which Roche was driving on the evening was observed by gardai to be “heavily laden” with a large quantity of explosive materials, which are typically used in a quarry, said the judge. No one driving such a small car would be unaware of the weight of over 23 stone of explosives as well as “openly visible” detonators under the front-passenger seat, he outlined. As driver and owner of the car, Roche had full control and awareness of its contents, he added.

Detective Sergeant Peter Whelan gave evidence in the trial that he could see between 15 and 20 detonators “sticking out” from underneath the front passenger seat of the car when he stopped it on the Naas Road on April 13. Four heavy duty plastic bags were in the boot of the car and two of these bags contained a powder mix which looked like homemade explosives, he said.

Mr Justice Hunt said Roche's denial that he was not at the quarry or knew what was in the car that evening were "totally incredible". The substances were possessed for the purpose of an unlawful organisation, he indicated.

Roche told gardai in his interviews that he knew nothing about the 167kg of explosives which were found in his car. The defendant was also asked to account for his presence at Behans Quarry but said he was not there.

In conclusion, Mr Justice Hunt said that the body of evidence against Roche was “sufficient” to establish his guilt and no further corroboration such as the “untruthful and misleading” answers he had provided at interview were needed to establish a guilty verdict.

In relation to Brock, the court was satisfied that his meeting with Roche in Rathcoole was not “a random coincidence” but prearranged for the purpose of moving a very significant quantity of explosives, he said. As a front-seat passenger in a relatively small car, it was not reasonably possible that Brock was unaware of the “bulky load” and the detonators “protruding” from under his seat, explained the judge.

Brock did not engage in “implausible denials” with gardai unlike Roche, said the judge, adding that his failure or refusal to answer questions inferred that there was no explanation other than “guilty knowledge”.

The court has heard that Brock gave no reply when asked by gardai to account for the presence of 167kg of explosives in the car in which he was a front seat passenger.

Mr Justice Hunt said that the evidence against Brock was “more than sufficient” to also establish his guilt.

The convicted men were remanded in custody until Monday, when they will be sentenced.

During the men’s trial, three members of the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) testified that they saw both defendants in the Skoda car at the gates of Behans Quarry, minutes before they were observed on the N7.

Detective Sergeant Peter Whelan said that he had received information that members of the IRA may be in possession of explosives on the evening in question. As a result, he and his colleague Detective Garda William Skelly stopped a black Skoda Fabia car at a junction on the Naas Road at 7pm, the court heard.

Det Gda William Skelly testified that he had his official firearm drawn when he opened the front door of the Skoda car and asked Roche to get out and lie face down on the ground. Both men were arrested under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act.

Forensic scientist Dr John O’Shaughnessy told the three-judge court that he examined items recovered from the Skoda car and said he was satisfied that the samples provided were all explosives under the Explosive Substances Act 1883.

Sections 18 and 19 of the Criminal Justice Act were invoked in subsequent garda interviews with the two men. These sections allow a court to draw inference from one’s failure or refusal to account for certain matters.

Closing the prosecution case last week, Anne-Marie Lawlor SC said that the two men were acting in concert with one another when they retrieved and transported 167kg of explosives in a car. She outlined that the offence is contrary to section 9 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883, which states that an explosive substance shall be deemed to include any materials used or intended to be used for making an explosive substance.

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