A west Belfast man accused of planting a bomb under a prison officer’s van conducted internet searches about him in the months and weeks leading to the blast, a court heard on Wednesday.
Adrian Ismay died 11 days after a device exploded under his blue Volkswagen van as he drove from his home in the Cregagh area of Belfast in March 2016.
Christopher Robinson (48) - who volunteered for St John’s Ambulance the same time as Mr Ismay - has been charged with his murder, possessing an improvised explosive device and providing money or property for the purposes of terrorism.
He has denied all the charges against him and is currently standing trial at Belfast Crown Court.
During today’s hearing, an expert analyst who was provided with a mobile seized from Robinson’s Aspen Park home in Twinbrook was called to give evidence.
The analyst confirmed there had been internet searches regarding Mr Ismay made on the phone from September 27, 2015 up to the bomb attack on March 4, 2016. She also confirmed there were multiple searches of local news website including UTV, BBC and the Belfast Telegraph on the day of the explosion.
Mr Ismay was a member of the community rescue service, and six months before the bomb attack the phone taken from Robinson’s address was used to search the organisation online.
In January 2016 searches were again conducted on the community rescue service, and Mr Ismay’s profile on their website was accessed, as well as the organisation’s Belfast address.
Also searched for that month were the opening times of a Tesco store in the Cregagh area of the city, while the following month Mr Ismay’s profile was again searched for on the community rescue service’s website.
The analyst was also asked about internet searches and activity the day of the explosion. The device exploded at the end of Hillsborough Drive at 7am on the morning of Friday March 4 - and the phone which was examined showed internet searches about the explosion began at 9.18am.
Several searches were made on a now defunct website at www.boswp.com regarding the explosion, while seconds later a search was conducted on the UTV website.
Throughout the course of March 4, news articles with headlines such as ‘Prison Officer Injured After Bomb Exploded Under Van’ and ‘Dissident Threat Severe After Booby-Trap Bomb’ were accessed.
The analyst confirmed she was also asked to examine photographs on the phone, which were shown in court and which depicted Mr Ismay’s van in situ at the scene of the blast, and another image of Scene of Crime officers in the area.
Internet searches about the incident were also conducted in the days after the explosion, with news articles carrying headlines such as ‘Miracle Prison Officer And Wife Did Not Die In Booby Trap Intended To Murder’ accessed.
Under cross-examination from defence barrister Arthur Harvey QC, the analyst confirmed that during her examination of the phone, she noted scores of “benign searches” such as Santander.
She was also asked about searches conducted between March 3 and 6, 2016 - a period when Mr Harvey said the bomb attack was a “dominant feature of local news”.
The analyst agreed with the defence that there was “extensive press covering” of the incident at the time, and also agreed that anyone accessing news over that period would have seen this coverage.