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Ardoyne bomb was planted in advertising board, court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 27/07/2015

Security alert in North Belfast, in the Brompton Park area of the Crumlin Road in Belfast. Police have urged people not to approach any suspicious objects.
Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.
Security alert in North Belfast, in the Brompton Park area of the Crumlin Road in Belfast. Police have urged people not to approach any suspicious objects. Picture By: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker.

A sophisticated bomb allegedly targeting police in north Belfast had been hidden in advertising hoarding, the High Court heard today.

Failed attempts were made to detonate the radio controlled explosives before two priests were warned about the device secretly planted in the Ardoyne area, prosecutors said.

Details emerged as bail was denied to a teenager charged with offences connected to the discovery made on May 1.

18-year-old Conal Corbett, of Flax Street in the city, is accused of two counts of possessing articles for terrorist-related purposes - namely a mobile phone and top-up vouchers purchased days earlier.

He is further charged with having a document or record likely to be of use in terrorism - handwritten instructions on operating an assault rifle allegedly found inside a doorbell ringer at his flat.

Corbett was arrested as part of the investigation into the bomb discovered at the junction of the Crumlin Road and Brompton Park.

At the time a PSNI commander claimed the device had been intended to kill or injure officers.

Setting out the circumstances in court today, prosecution counsel said it was located close to where police attend continuing daily protests over a banned Orange Order parade.

"There's a bookmakers which has a number of advertisements outside the building," he explained.

"An additional metal frame had been disguised to look like the original and placed along the bottom of the advertisement.

"It contained a sophisticated radio controlled device."

The barrister went on: "It appears there were failed attempts to explode that device and then subsequently contact was made with two priests to assist in the location of the device."

Fr Gary Donegan was phoned first and alerted to the device at a minute past midnight on May 1, the court heard.

But because of how the bomb had been hidden there were still problems in locating it.

Then, shortly after 8am that day, a second priest was contacted in person and given the exact location.

According to the prosecution a closed network of approximately five phones were involved in the bomb plot.

Corbett is alleged to have purchased a mobile and top-up vouchers suspected of being used for contact with the so-called bomb warning phone.

Lord Justice Gillen was told the rifle instructions were found during searches at the defendant's home on May 7.

A black balaclava, crossbow and arrows were said to have been seized from a desk drawer in the property.

Police also located a handkerchief signed by "a number of significant dissident republican prisoners", the prosecutor disclosed.

Opposing bail, he said Corbett requested a transfer in custody from the young offenders centre to the separated Roe House wing at HMP Maghaberry - a unit housing some describing themselves as aligned to "the New IRA".

The lawyer argued there was prima facie evidence of "a motivated commitment to assisting those involved in terrorism".

He added: "This is in the context of a sophisticated device located in a busy area where police were known to be on a daily basis.

"The threat doesn't just extend to members of the police force, it also extends to members of the public."

Counsel for Corbett argued that it was impossible to establish what the reason was for contact between the phones.

"It's not apparent that the telephone communication to the priest was coming from those who planted the bomb or others who became aware of the bomb location and wanted police to be alerted through good motive," he said.

The defence barrister also disputed claims the rifle note was either written by his client or placed by him in the doorbell ringer. DNA analysis has yet to be carried out, he insisted.

Accusing the prosecution of creating "smoke and mirrors" about elements of the case, he challenged the relevance of the reference to the crossbow.

"The general suggestion is this man is someone involved in sophisticated dissident activity," the lawyer said.

"This type of weapon has never been part of the modus operandi of any of those groups.

But refusing Corbett's bid to be released from custody, Lord Justice Gillen held there was strong prima facie evidence against him.

Citing the risk of re-offending, the judge said: "My duty is to ensure that the public is adequately protected... and I would be failing in my duty if I granted him bail."

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