Tuesday 20 March 2018

Police fear cardinal target in anti-Celtic letter-bomb blitz

Auslan Cramb in Glasgow

THE head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland was among public figures warned to take precautions yesterday after potentially lethal nail bombs were sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two high-profile fans.

Police told famous supporters of the club, especially those who have spoken out recently, to be vigilant and advised the office of Cardinal Keith O'Brien of the potential threat posed by the sectarian bombing campaign.

Two liquid-based devices designed to "maim or kill" were addressed to Lennon, one was sent to his lawyer Paul McBride, and one was delivered to the Celtic-supporting former Labour MSP Trish Godman.

Counter-terrorism detectives have visited all three and their mail is now being intercepted and checked.

There were fears last night that further devices may be in the post after police asked experts to examine a suspect package sent to a Harris Tweed mill in the Western Isles, where Brian Wilson, a Celtic director and former Labour minister, is chairman of the company.

The "crude but viable" devices, which police initially thought were hoaxes, contained a combination of nails and a small amount of explosive liquid.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said "the full force of the law should come crashing down" on those responsible.

Speaking in Inverness, he said: "It's just completely appalling and unacceptable."

Detectives believe events surrounding recent Old Firm clashes between Rangers and Celtic -- which were followed by hundreds of arrests -- are behind the letter-bomb campaign.

One cup tie, in which three players were sent off and Neil Lennon and Ally McCoist, the assistant manager of Rangers, "squared up" to each other, led to an emergency summit involving police, politicians and the football authorities to discuss the religious bigotry and disorder that surrounds the rivalry.

Officers were also studying online Rangers forums where threats against the Celtic manager have previously been posted.

A source close to Mr McBride, one of Scotland's most prominent defence lawyers, said it was "appalling and astonishing" that people voicing legitimate and widely held opinions in a democratic society could be "threatened with death".

The source added: "This has to be a wake-up call for the authorities to deal with the curse of sectarianism. If this isn't, I don't know what is."

The incidents mark a significant escalation in the hate campaign against Lennon, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, who has previously suffered death threats and hate mail.

High profile

He and his wife and children have been forced to leave their family home and have been living under 24-hour guard for some weeks.

Chief Superintendent Ruaraidh Nicolson insisted there was no danger to the general public, and suggested it was only "high-profile people who have been in the media" who needed to take sensible precautions.

The hunt for those responsible, thought to be from a loyalist background, is focusing on Scotland, where the devices appear to have been posted.

Two packages intercepted at Royal Mail sorting offices last month were addressed to the Celtic manager. The first was found in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, on March 4 and the second on March 26 in Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire.

Two days later a parcel sent to Mrs Godman (71), the former deputy presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament who is stepping down at next month's Holyrood election, was delivered.

The most recent package was intercepted on Friday in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, and addressed to Mr McBride, who represented Mr Lennon during his recent disciplinary dispute with the Scottish Football Association.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said the campaign was "horrific" and appealed to supporters to stay calm.

McCoist added that he and Lennon, who was in the dugout as his team beat Kilmarnock in a league clash last night, remained friends. He said: "We always share a bottle of beer or glass of wine after the game. We can't let these idiots win and won't let them win."

Meanwhile, Scottish Third Division side Berwick Rangers sacked under-17 captain Kieran Bowell after comments on Twitter that he wished the parcel bomb had killed Mr Lennon.

Berwick said the player had apologised and regrets any offence caused.

Irish Independent

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