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'Secret recording of terrorist Gavin Coyle grounds for police murder bid charge'

Published 03/12/2015

Gavin Coyle is accused of attempted murder
Gavin Coyle is accused of attempted murder

A covert recording of a suspected terrorist meeting led detectives to charge a convicted dissident republican with the attempted murder of a Northern Ireland policeman, a court has heard.

Self-confessed dissident Gavin Coyle, 38, appeared at Strabane Magistrates' Court accused of the bomb attack on an off-duty Catholic police officer near Castlederg, Co Tyrone, in 2008.

A district judge was told that detectives believe taped undercover surveillance captured Coyle discussing acts of terrorism and construction of bombs.

Coyle, formerly of Culmore Park, Omagh, was arrested earlier this week inside Maghaberry high-security prison near Lisburn, where he is serving a 10-year sentence for a range of dissident terror offences.

The officer was driving from his home to start a night shift at Enniskillen police station in May 2008 when a bomb made up of 1lb (0.5kg) of high explosives, which was hidden under his car, detonated.

The injured policeman was able to escape the burning vehicle but suffered serious leg wounds.

Coyle, who pleaded guilty to a range of other terror charges two years ago, appeared at Strabane courthouse accused of attempted murder, causing an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury, and membership of a proscribed organisation.

The court heard that police interviewed Coyle about the attack twice in 2008 but that prosecutors decided the evidence against him - namely CCTV images, number plate recognition data, two witness statements, text messages and a trace of explosive residue found in his car - was insufficient to charge him.

A detective constable said evidence from a covert recording of a meeting allegedly involving Coyle, taped in February 2010, had now given police sufficient grounds to charge the accused.

The officer said that Coyle's convictions in relation to other dissident activities also added weight to the evidence against him.

The accused's solicitor, Niall Murphy, asked the officer why the charge had only materialised five years after the recording was obtained. He also questioned why it was not used against his client in his previous prosecution.

"This material was in the cognisance of the prosecution five years ago," he said.

The officer said expert voice recording analysis had taken a long time to progress and detectives only received a final report on the taped meeting in October this year.

Mr Murphy questioned whether the man taped at the meeting was his client and also queried whether the participants in the conversation were actually talking about the Castlederg attack. He highlighted that no specific details about the bombing, such as the name of the officer or the location, were mentioned in the bugged exchanges.

He accused police of an "abuse of process" and said a bid to stay the prosecution would be made at a later court hearing.

Upon further questioning by the solicitor, the officer acknowledged that the case against Coyle did not include fingerprint, DNA, fibre or vehicle tracking evidence.

In January 2014, Coyle was handed a 10-year sentence, five to be spent behind bars, after admitting possession of arms and explosives and membership of the dissident organisation styling itself the new IRA. The weapons haul was found at industrial premises in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, in April 2011. He is due for release in April next year.

At the start of Thursday's court hearing, Coyle, wearing jeans and a blue and grey top, sat down when asked to stand by the judge.

The judge raised his behaviour with Mr Murphy.

The solicitor replied: "I don't think there is anything I can do about that."

The accused also declined to answer when asked if he understood the charges facing him.

Mr Murphy made a bail application, noting that while his client was already in custody he had been due for a period of temporary release over the Christmas period.

The judge refused the application on the grounds that Coyle posed a risk of committing further offences, absconding and interfering with witnesses.

The accused was remanded to appear before the same court, via video-link, on December 31.

He gave the thumbs-up to a supporter in the public gallery as he was led from the dock.

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