Belfast Telegraph

Mortars accused is granted bail: Former Northern Ireland football star puts up £5,000 surety so man can attend funeral

By John Cassidy

A former Northern Ireland football international has provided bail for a dissident republican suspect accused of having "ready to deploy" mortars.

Compassionate release to attend a family funeral was granted under strict conditions to Seamus McLaughlin, after former Derry City player Tony O'Doherty put up £5,000 of "his own personal money" as surety.

The 66-year-old businessman also agreed to chaperone the defendant to his 32-year-old cousin's funeral today at the Holy Family Catholic Church, Ballymagroarty, Londonderry.

McLaughlin (35), of Eastway Gardens, in the Creggan estate, was arrested on March 3 last year following a surveillance operation, Belfast Crown Court heard.

A prosecuting lawyer said McLaughlin was the driver of a Citroen Berlingo van police believe was driving in convoy with a motorcycle which was driven by a co-accused, Gary McDaid.

The two dissident republican terror suspects are jointly charged with possession of explosives with intent to endanger life and conspiracy to cause explosions.

Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland was told that the van had travelled a short distance along the Letterkenny Road before it was stopped by the police around 8.15pm.

"The roof of the van had been cut open and the hole covered over with tape," the prosecution lawyer said. "Inside the rear of the van was found four mortar tubes loaded with mortars and it was ballasted in order to keep the mortars in position to fire.

"In the front passenger seat was a timer power unit which was connected to the firing mechanism of the mortar.

"The mortar tubes were loaded, they were connected together and were ready to deploy. They were ready to go. Clearly they were capable of causing damage to property and persons at its target."

The lawyer said it was the prosecution case that once the timer power unit had been set using a toggle device, McLaughlin was to have been taken away by McDaid.

The court heard a blast incendiary type device was found in the footwell of the front passenger seat which was also connected to a separate timer power unit with its own toggle device.

"It is the prosecution case that once the mortars had been fired, the secondary device was to have exploded in an effort to destroy any forensic evidence," the lawyer said, adding that the timer power unit on the "improvised" mortars was set at 60 minutes once it reached its target of a police station in Derry.

The timer power unit on the blast incendiary device was set at 80 minutes. However, Judge McFarland was told that the blast incendiary device would not have been capable of igniting if the mortars had been fired.

The prosecuting lawyer said there was "properly founded concerns" that McLaughlin would abscond while out on compassionate bail, would not turn up for his trial and would also "re-engage in these activities".

Mr O'Doherty told Judge McFarland: "I have known Seamus McLaughlin since he was a young boy growing up in the Creggan.

"I trust him 100%. I could not see him doing anything to damage my own reputation."

Judge McFarland said in the circumstances he was prepared to grant bail but under strict conditions and ordered the £5,000 surety be lodged into court before McLaughlin could be released.

McLaughlin, who was returned for trial last month, is to be arraigned at Belfast Crown Court on Monday on the explosives charges.

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