A would-be killer spent almost a year living openly in the Republic without an extradition application being made after being caught fleeing a bombing attempt in Co Londonderry.
Despite being apprehended in a stolen car filled with explosive residue after a police pursuit, Gardai released Sean McVeigh and he went on to live just a few miles south of the border, without being made subject to a European Arrest Warrant.
The News Letter has pieced together the chronology of the case from court reports down the years, and has attempted to uncover how this situation came about.
It comes just ahead of Brexit, which will likely mean that the EU and UK revisit the issue of how cross-border extradition works.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council recently described the European Arrest Warrant system, in place between the UK and Ireland for about the last 15 years, as letting officers “respond quickly and intelligently to crime and terrorism in the UK and the EU”.
But even under this existing system the PSNI said “there were a number of challenges” in the McVeigh case – even though he was caught ostensibly red-handed immediately after a murder bid.
On June 18, 2015, McVeigh was spotted planting an under-car bomb at a policeman’s home in Eglinton.
He then fled in a stolen car with Irish plates just as PSNI officers were in the process of setting up a roadblock on the Foyle Bridge.
When the car entered the Republic, armed Gardai pursued and caught him inside.
The car bore traces of explosive residue, as did McVeigh’s clothes.
He was questioned but later released pending a report to the Republic’s director of public prosecutions.
The next record of anything happening was when the PSNI arrested him in Portadown in May 2016.
Subsequent court proceedings heard it claimed that there was not enough evidence to prosecute him in the Republic, with one report stating that after Gardai released him he had “lived openly in Dundalk”.
Both the Gardai and Irish prosecutors have flatly refused to offer any comment on the case. But the PSNI has shed some light.
They said it had been agreed that their own detectives would take charge of the investigation, and that they then spent the 11 months building up a case against him.
It was only when they were on the cusp of applying for extradition that he turned up in NI – making an extradition bid pointless.
The police were asked why it took so long to apply for extradition.
In order to get a European Arrest Warrant, the PPS first had to be convinced there was already enough evidence against him to mount a prosecution.
“Unlike other arrest warrants, a European Arrest Warrant only facilitates the arrest of the individual for the purpose of prosecuting them,” said the PSNI.
“Such a warrant does NOT allow the police to extradite an individual to gather further evidence from them, such as by way of interviewing them [PSNI’s emphasis].
“This means that all of the evidence to link Sean McVeigh to the crime was required to have been gathered, forensic examinations completed and sufficient evidence to exist, to enable the PPS to reach a prosecutorial decision.
“Cross-border investigations are complex. The transfer or examination of evidence and material requires careful management to ensure that the investigative integrity is maintained.”
The investigation was “protracted, professional and detailed”, police said, adding the judge had hailed the strength of the case presented.