Saturday 23 February 2019

'I shudder to think my daughter and her friends could have been blown to bits' - dad who drove past Derry car bomb

Ciaran Caldwell (47), who was leaving his daughter and her two friends into the city centre on Saturday night, was one of a number of motorists who drove past the car parked on Bishop Street unaware of its deadly cargo.
Ciaran Caldwell (47), who was leaving his daughter and her two friends into the city centre on Saturday night, was one of a number of motorists who drove past the car parked on Bishop Street unaware of its deadly cargo.

Donna Deeney

A man who drove past the car bomb left outside Derry's courthouse at the weekend said it was only after he saw CCTV footage later that it dawned on him how close he had come to being killed.

Ciaran Caldwell (47), who was leaving his daughter and her two friends into the city centre on Saturday night, was one of a number of motorists who drove past the car parked on Bishop Street unaware of its deadly cargo.

Chilling footage released by the PSNI shows vehicles passing the abandoned car and a group of teenagers walking past minutes before the device inside exploded.

Mr Caldwell, a clerical officer with the Western Health Trust who also works as a part-time taxi driver, said: "I've grown up through the Troubles and there has been many a bomb and many a bomb scare.

"But it wasn't until I saw the CCTV footage and I saw the wee guy running through the gate that I realised I had driven past him and the car bomb.

"I had my daughter, who is 15, in the car with me and her two friends, who are the same age.

Shocking footage of the Derry car bomb blast shows a group of young people walking past the vehicle just minutes before it explodes
Shocking footage of the Derry car bomb blast shows a group of young people walking past the vehicle just minutes before it explodes

"We were just coming up to Bishop's Gate when this wee boy - hood up and pulled as tight as can be so there was just a gap for his eyes - ran past.

"He ran through the gate and I actually remarked to my daughter about him looking like a real wee hoodie thug, but we drove on through the gate and then noticed the car parked at the courthouse.

"I know you are not allowed to park there but it didn't dawn on me for one second that there could have been a bomb in it.

"I dropped the girls off and a short while later I got a message on the taxi man's WhatsApp group about Bishop Street being cordoned off because of a suspected car bomb at the courthouse."

Mr Caldwell quickly realised then how close they had come to being caught up in the blast.

"I had my daughter and two other people's children in the car with me and it doesn't bear thinking about what could have happened," he said.

Screengrab from CCTV footage dated issued by the PSNI shows a man fleeing the scene after parking the car outside courthouse in Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Screengrab from CCTV footage dated issued by the PSNI shows a man fleeing the scene after parking the car outside courthouse in Derry. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire

"When I saw the footage of the bomb going off, I knew it wasn't a big bomb like some of those we experienced in the Seventies and Eighties, but I knew it was big enough.

"It could easily have killed those children that walked past it and it was big enough to cause serious damage or even death to me, my daughter and her friends.

"All during the Troubles, with all the bombs and the shooting that went on in Derry, this was the closest I have been to anything to the point that I said: 'How lucky was I?'.

"In my head now I have accepted that I was lucky last Saturday night, but it has still affected me.

"I had been watching the coverage of all the hijackings that went on on Monday and when I went to get petrol I was genuinely scared driving last night.

"I kept thinking if I pull up at a set of traffic lights, is someone going to jump out of a hedge and take my car and set it alight? That is the first time ever I sat and worked out a route to the petrol station wondering about places where I would have to sit at traffic lights."

He said it was "scandalous" that such attacks were happening more than 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement.

Forensic experts examine the remains of the car that exploded outside Derry courthouse. Photo: Margaret McLaughlin
Forensic experts examine the remains of the car that exploded outside Derry courthouse. Photo: Margaret McLaughlin

"It is also absolutely not acceptable that my 15-year-old daughter - born five years after the Good Friday Agreement - all day on Monday she was sending me texts: 'Daddy, there's another bomb scare', 'Daddy they've hijacked another van', 'Daddy I think I heard a bomb'.

"For the first time in her life she has had to face the reality of what we lived through and that's not acceptable. I am sure the families of all those young ones who walked past that car bomb are thinking the exact same as me."

Mr Caldwell shares the anger expressed by the people of Derry about Saturday's bomb attack and the three security alerts which followed on Monday.

He added: "I do not for one second believe in my heart that these young fellas that are doing these things are following a cause or belief that has been indoctrinated in them.

"I believe they are people who have been handed £50 and told to take that car and drive it wherever and they are doing it in fear of the boys who are ordering them.

"I think the whole thing is orchestrated by a group of bigoted men around a kitchen table planning these things.

"They are cowards because it isn't them that is doing it, they are intimidating youngsters who have grown up being told to hate the police, hate the Brits, and then some guy they think has power orders them to do something.

"I am sure that young fella who got out of that car at the courthouse was terrified driving that car. How close was he to death? Closer than anybody.

"And what good did it do? All those businesses on Bishop Street that depend on passing trade are still there but people won't want to go up there because of the courthouse that those thugs think is a 'legitimate target'.

"The only thing that was achieved last Saturday night was a lot of Derry people, including children, had their lives put in danger - but we can only thank God no one was killed."

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