Pair sentenced tomorrow for terror offences

The Waterfoot Hotel in Londonderry
The Waterfoot Hotel in Londonderry

Two men from Co Meath who were “caught red-handed” on a bomb run are expected to receive lengthy jail terms when they are sentenced for terrorist offences later this week.

Brian Walsh and Darren Poleon left a blast bomb 20 metres from the lobby of a hotel in Londonderry which was due to host a PSNI information event in October 2015.

The pair were informed by Judge Geoffery Miller QC that they will be sentenced on Thursday for their “involvement in a potentially murderous attack.”

Belfast Crown Court heard the device was found in shrubbey in the car park of the Waterfoot Hotel, and it was the same type of bomb that exploded outside Palace Barracks in Co Down the previous August.

Crown prosecutor Terence Mooney QC said the devices that were left at the two separate locations were “part of a terrorist campaign carried out in Northern Ireland ... a dangerous terrorist campaign”, adding both Walsh and Poleon “at least supported the aims of a terrorist organisation”.

Both Poleon – who turns 43 today and who is from Lightown in Kells – and 35-year old Brian Walsh from Drumree in Dunshaughlin – initially denied any involvement in the bomb plot, but subsequently admitted two offences.

They both pleaded guilty to possessing an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property on October 6, 2015, and possessing articles for use in terrorism, on the same date, ‘in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that their possession was for a purpose connected ... to the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism’.

The articles in question include a Satellite Navigation System, bolt cutters, a balaclava, binoculars, assorted gloves, hand held two-way radios, wigs, a head torch and plastic adhesive tape.

Mr Mooney said the pair were stopped by police in Omagh on the afternoon of October 6, 2015 after a car was driving erratically. When police stopped the Ford Focus, Poleon was driving and Walsh was a front seat passenger.

The pair told police they both lived in the Republic but had been in the north to buy a car engine. Mr Mooney said that when they were being questioned by police, both men were “extremely vague” about this alleged purchase.

The vehicle was searched and a backpack containing various items was located. They initially denied knowing anything about it, before Walsh claimed it was his. Also found during the search were other items including balaclavas, a two-way radio and a SatNav system.

The pair were arrested on suspicion of going equipped for buglary. When asked about the items, Poleon said the wig and false beards were his wife’s, and that she used them for entertainment at a nursing home where she worked.

At this stage, Poleon and Walsh were released on bail, and ordered to return to Omagh in December 2015.

Regarding the discovery of the device in Derry, Mr Mooney said the blast bomb - described in court as a “viable improvised explosive device” - was found at 11am on October 9, 2015.

The prosecutor said the discovery was made the day before a PSNI event was due to be held at the hotel. The device, Mr Mooney said, was “disrupted” by the Army Technical Officer and later underwent a forensic examination.

Also examined was the SatNav found in the Focus, and the data retrieved indicated the car left Poleon’s house in Co Meath on the morning of October 6, that it stopped at a supermarket in Cavan where the pair are caught on CCTV buying the backpack, and that it arrived at a roundabout close to the Waterfoot Hotel in Derry at 9.06pm that evening.

The SatNav was then disconnected for 30 minutes before the power was reconnected. Mr Mooney said: “This is consistent with the bomb being placed in the car park by the defendants at that time.”

The prosecuting QC also revealed that other data on the SatNav revealed a vehicle had been driven to two other venues - one in Belfast and one in Omagh - due to host PSNI information events.

The court heard that information found on both men’s mobiles linked them to “people associated with Irish Republicanism” - including an image of a punishment shooting accompanied by the words ‘bringing back old school’ and ‘dealers beware.’

The Crown revealed there was also a reservation made in the name of Darren Poleon at the Waterfoot Hotel for October 9th, which was cancelled when the device was discovered. Poleon’s DNA was also found on the bomb.

Both men were arrested under the Terrorist Act in December 2015 and denied they were members of a terrorist organisation.

Mr Mooney said despite the denials and refusal to answer any police questions, both men were “involved in a bomb run when they were stopped by police.” Branding the bomb itself as “sophisticated” and capable of being detonated remotely, Mr Mooney said the evidence against the men was “overwhelming” and they were “caught red-handed.”

The prosecutor also raised the point that neither defendants had a criminal record, but said both “played a significant role” in the “carefully planned out operation.”

Defence barrister Martin O’Rourke, defending Poleon, said the father of two has been in consistent employment since leaving school.

Mr O’Rourke told Judge Miller that despite Poleon’s home being searched in connection with the Derry incident in October 2015, he still travelled over the border to honour his bail in December.

Karen Quinlivan QC, representing Walsh, said her client was undergoing treatment for a medical condition which has caused difficulties throughout his life.

Telling the court Walsh was not connected to the bomb forensically, Ms Quinlivan said that whilst on remand he has expressed views that only peaceful means can achieve political aims.

The barrister said when released, Walsh will be returning to “people who are critical of what he has done ... and who would not be supportive of such behaviour.” She also noted that Walsh was aware of the impact his actions have had on his family.