Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Fire drill may have saved lives in bomb attack

23rd April 201- The scene where two people have been injured in a car bomb explosion outside a police station in Newtownhamilton, County Armagh.
23rd April 201- The scene where two people have been injured in a car bomb explosion outside a police station in Newtownhamilton, County Armagh.
23rd April 201- The scene where two people have been injured in a car bomb explosion outside a police station in Newtownhamilton, County Armagh.

A routine fire drill may have saved many lives in the bomb-devastated village of Newtownhamilton.

Two people were injured when the dissident republican device exploded outside the village's PSNI station late on Thursday night.

But the legacy of the attack may well have been more blood-stained had local firefighters, who had been conducting a routine drill, not been around to spot the bombers' car and evacuate the area.

A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said: “Firefighters from Newtownhamilton Fire Station evacuated residents and commercial premises after they noticed a suspicious car parked at Newtownhamilton PSNI Station.

“The fire station is located opposite the police station and firefighters were still on station, having attended their drill night earlier that evening.

“Firefighters removed the two fire appliances from the station and set up an initial cordon. After the device exploded the car went on fire and firefighters put out the fire from a safe distance.”

Local Presbyterian minister Rev Kerr Graham said the bombing was an attack on the community.

“People here are feeling very scared and fearful. Twice within two weeks they have had to face up to not only a viable device being left by dissidents, but one that actually went off,” he said.

“People could have been killed if the firemen weren't here for a routine drill. This is an attack on the freedom and democracy of the people of south Armagh.”

He added: “If the dissident threat is at its highest in 12 years, there should have been enough on-the-ground policing to make the area secure.”

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones, the PSNI officer responsible for the area, said the police response to certain incidents will always be based on “certain risk assessment”.

“The reason why we are having to review the way we do these things is because there are people out there trying to kill us,” he said.

A mother-of-three yesterday told of her horror at being caught up in the bombing. Jlona (who asked to have her surname withheld) said she was in bed when she heard the gunfire which preceded the blast. The 44-year-old raced onto the street where she saw a white Toyota car parked at the police station. Thirty minutes later it exploded, with part of the car ending up in Jlona’s back garden.

Jlona, originally from Lithuania, received medical attention for eardrum damage caused by the blast.

“I thought we were going to die,” Jlona said.

“We were very scared. First of all we heard 10 or 11 shots. Half-an-hour later we heard a loud noise and the whole house started moving.

“Slates from the roofs of houses close to the police station were thrown into our back garden and so was part of the car that we had seen parked outside.”

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