Explosives accused had ‘biggest amount of Semtex seized in Northern Ireland for 10 years’

Laganside Court Building
Laganside Court Building

A north Belfast man was remanded into custody on Saturday accused of having the largest Semtex seizure found in Northern Ireland in the last ten years.

Appearing in the dock of Belfast Magistrates Court in a green t-shirt and jeans, 47-year-old Thomas Hughes confirmed that he understood the single charge against him.

Hughes, originally from Glasgow but with an address at Maeve House in the New Lodge area, is charged with having explosives, namely Semtex on 30 April with intent to endanger life.

During a failed bail application, a detective constable outlined how the 2.5 kilos of plastic explosive had been found in an airing cupboard at Hughes’ flat when officers searched it acting on information there were illegal ammunitions in it.

“This is the largest amount which had been seized in Northern Ireland in 10 years and undoubtedly would have been used in the manufacture of numerous explosive devices,” said the officer adding that the block, “probably about the size of a house brick,” had been cut in two “most likely for purposes of distribution to other terrorist cells” and wrapped in cling film and tinfoil.

He said the police held the view that in the eyes of dissident republican terrorists, Semtex is an asset and would only “have been placed in the safekeeping of someone who would be a trusted individual”.

The officer said police were objecting to Hughes’ release amid fears that he would reoffend, use the support network for dissident republicans to flee the jurisdiction and would alert his co-conspirators to what evidence the police hold.

During cross examination the officer agreed that Hughes has a clear record, had given an account that a key to his flat had gone missing and was then found in the possession of an alleged tiger kidnapper and that although he admitted he was a republican, denied being a member of any terrorist organisation and was “vehemently anti dissident activity”.

The solicitor submitted that Hughes was “shocked and horrified” to learn that “highly volatile” Semtex was in his home and that, as he has a drink problem, was an unsuspecting “easy target”.

Refusing the bail application on the grounds of the risk of reoffending and remanding Hughes into custody to appear again on 30 May via videolink, District Judge Harry McKibbin said Hughes’ explanation was not “terribly satisfactory I’m bound to say”.

“I’m not convinced at all by the explanations and it would be foolhardy to release him on bail,” said the judge.

As Hughes was led away, he waved to supporters in the public gallery.