Belfast Telegraph

Residents outraged as bombs are found in Derry flats

Explosive haul in flat could have killed children and elderly

By Brendan McDaid

Stunned residents of one of Londonderry’s most densely populated housing areas have vented their anger at those who set up a suspected bomb factory there.

Dozens of families were evacuated or forced to huddle at the back of their properties following a major security alert in the Maureen Avenue area close to the city centre.

Many were ordered out of their homes as Army Technical Officers were scrambled to deal with a series of unexploded bombs found in a first floor flat.

One man in his 30s has been arrested on suspicion of dissident republican activity in connection with the unexploded devices.

The bombs were made safe before being taken away for tests, but much of the street remained cordoned off well into yesterday evening as forensic searches were conducted.

Those who lived there said they were shocked and disgusted that bombs had been discovered in such a built-up, residential area.

Several also raised questions over emergency evacuation procedures, saying that people were told to go to a local hotel, only to be informed on arrival that they weren't being accommodated.

It is understood a bus was arranged to take the evacuees from the hotel to Brooke Park leisure centre — but almost all arranged to stay with with friends or relatives.

One man decided to take his pet King Charles spaniel and sleep in his car at a beach in Inishowen, Co Donegal.

Another woman said she had to take a terrified eight-year-old boy into her care after he became separated from his grandfather, who was inside the flats.

Gerry Murray (78) lives opposite the flats with his wife.

“They told us we didn't have to leave we could go to the back of the house so we stayed. The word went round that they had found some bomb-making material,” he said.

“I think it’s a disgrace to put a bomb in a built-up area like this. It’s definitely a thing you don’t want around you.

“We are two elderly people and there are others, and young children here, but these people don’t think of that.”

A mother who lives on Maureen Avenue said she didn't initially hear the commotion.

“I didn't know what was going on and a policeman came to the door and asked us to go to the back of the house,” she said.

“But these houses aren’t really designed like that. There is nothing at the back and I thought it was better to go so we went and stayed elsewhere.

“It’s crazy to think people would do this when there are so many people in this area. There are houses and flats everywhere here.”

Another resident said that emergency procedures needed to be reviewed after the confusion caused.

He said: “Lots of people have come here this morning expecting to get back into their flats — but they are still cordoned off and that is on top of the whole mess with the hotel last night.

“A lot of people on medication couldn’t get their medication last night. There are a lot of vulnerable people living there, people with disabilities. They couldn’t get in to get their tablets.”

The woman who found the young boy added: “The wee lad couldn’t get in to his granda in Sheerin Court. The youngster was out in the street and I had to take responsibility for him.

“He was terrified. My son brought him a football to take his mind off it. Then we found out his grandfather had been evacuated up around the back of the flats and we were able to bring them together later on.”

SDLP councillor for the area John Boyle (left) said local people were “deeply shocked”.

“It is especially alarming that these devices were left in an apartment in a built-up area as that could have concentrated the damage caused had they exploded,” he said.

“There is no support in Derry for acts such as this and creating a culture of fear in the town cannot further any cause by so much as an inch.

“Those behind these devices are enemies of the community — they must be found and face the criminal justice system,” he added.

Deadly stash that could have sparked carnage

A stash of bombs in a Londonderry flat could have caused carnage if it had exploded, the police have said.

Foyle PSNI Area Commander Garry Eaton confirmed that a number of other searches have been conducted since the discovery of the devices at Maureen Avenue on Monday night.

Searches at the scene continued yesterday. Dozens of families had been evacuated from their homes although the cordon was lifted last night.

Chief Inspector Eaton confirmed that one man in his 30s had been arrested on suspicion of dissident republican activity and was being questioned at Antrim Serious Crime suite.

At a Press conference yesterday, he said: “Following a police operation yesterday evening a number of viable devices were found in a residential premises.

“Following the discovery our immediate concerns were for the residents in the vicinity and the safety of our officers. We had to ensure the devices were made safe and await the arrival of ATO (Ammunition Technical Officers).”

He said that those behind the explosives were entirely responsible for the disruption, which saw dozens of families, including elderly and vulnerable people, forced from their homes.

“We are lucky now that we are not dealing with serious injuries or deaths,” he added.

“The fact that they were in a built-up area with children and elderly people is a disgrace.”

Mr Eaton refused to be drawn on the exact nature of the devices or how many were discovered.

The devices made safe by ATO have now been taken away for forensic examination.

Sinn Fein councillor for the Abercorn Road area, Mickey Cooper, said it was “absolutely ridiculous that in this day and age people have to put up with the stress and upset this has caused”.

Mr Cooper, who met with the residents who were forced to move out, said: “Those responsible for these actions should take stock of what the community is saying and cease these activities.

“There is no justification for these activities in the political climate in which we now live. Everyone now has access to a political course on which to articulate their goals and to seek support for them.”

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