Ex-PSNI officer believes ‘gut instinct’ saved her and husband from under-car bomb

The bomb was planted under the policeman's car at his house in the Eglinton area of Londonderry
The bomb was planted under the policeman's car at his house in the Eglinton area of Londonderry

A court has heard how the “gut instinct ... gut feelings” woke an off-duty Londonderry policewoman and may have saved her or her policeman husband from possible death from a lethal booby-trap bomb.

In a statement read to Belfast Crown Court, the now-retired policewoman told of her “sheer disbelief” on seeing a “skinny man” attaching to her husband’s car what turned out to be a new type of improvised under-car explosive device.

She said that she was also “so shocked” she rapped so hard on the bedroom window of her bungalow home in the Eglinton area of Londonderry that it “bruised” her knuckles.

The would-be bomber, her statement added, “must have croaked himself” because he immediately “legged it ... took to his heels” down the driveway and into a waiting dark car.

Sean McVeigh, 37, from Victoria Street, Lurgan, denies attempting to murder police on June 18, 2015, and possession of an under-vehicle improvised explosive device with intent.

McVeigh, initially picked up by members of the Garda Regional Support Unit in Co Donegal a short time after the alarm was raised, was finally arrested by the PSNI on a Lurgan-bound train almost a year later in May 2016.

Judge Stephen Fowler QC, sitting alone in the Diplock type non-jury trial, heard that save for giving his name and date of birth, as he did when first interviewed by gardai, McVeigh refused to answer any further questions put to him by PSNI officers.

A prosecution QC also told the court that traces of RDX explosives were allegedly found on McVeigh’s jacket and trousers.

He further claimed that CCTV footage taken from the police couples’ bungalow, of the jacket worn by the would-be bomber, provided a strong match as to the make and model of the jacket taken from McVeigh.

However, the lawyer said he wanted “to make it clear, although the court might very well come to the conclusion that McVeigh was the person who planted the device on the underside of the policeman’s car, the prosecution case is simply that he was one of a number of people who were involved in the joint enterprise to plant the device”.

“There is no need to ascribe his particular role,” he added.

The prosecution lawyer also revealed that after ATO made safe the device, contained within a box heavily covered in black tape, it turned out to be the first of its kind as an under-car booby trap.

He said while it incorporated the usual mercury tilt switch, “it was unusual in that it had a copper cone incorporated in it”. Counsel explained that normally such components were often found in mortar or propelled grenades.

This was designed that, “on detonation it is deformed by the blast into a ‘slug’ or rod-shaped projectile”, and in a field test conducted on a similar model of car as that of the policeman, it “showed that anyone sitting on the driving seat would have sustained serious and possibly fatal injuries”.

The court also heard that after the alarm was raised, police tasked to go to the house “encountered” two vehicles travelling at speed towards Londonderry. Picked up on various CCTV installations, and by ANPR (automatic number plate recording), they were identified as a VW Passat and a Toyota Corolla, both with Republic of Ireland plates.

Both vehicles, which had been stolen, and bore false plates, were traced travelling over the border into Donegal, after driving through a checkpoint which had been set up on the Foyle Bridge. They drove to Lifford, where the Toyota was abandoned in a car park, with the driver getting into the Passat.

As the VW drove towards Ballybofey, it was spotted by the alerted specialist Garda unit who gave chase, stopping the car by blocking its path about a mile outside the village of Killygordon. Along with the driver, and a rear-seat passenger, McVeigh was found sitting in the front passenger seat.

In a follow-up search of the route taken by the VW, Garda found three pairs of Tesco Marigold-type gloves, later found to have traces of explosives residue.

In addition RDX was also allegedly found on McVeigh’s black outer jacket and tracksuit bottoms. Further traces of RDX were also found on swabs taken from the front seat of the VW car, the interior door handles and from the rear seat.

Similar explosive traces were found on the Toyota car located six days later in the car park where it had been left.

The trial, expected to last up to three weeks, continues on Tuesday.