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Bomb memorial attack accused will be asked to plead next week

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Robert McKeegan

Robert McKeegan

The damage to the memorial wreaths at Narrow Water

The damage to the memorial wreaths at Narrow Water

Robert McKeegan

A lorry driver accused of wrecking a memorial to soldiers in Co Down will have the charge put to him next week, a judge has ruled.

Freeing Robert James McKeegan on continuing bail at Newry Magistrates Court yesterday, Deputy District Judge Steven Keown ordered him to appear again next week "for attitude" to the two charges against him.

McKeegan, with an address at Beech Drive, Bleary, Craigavon, is accused of causing criminal damage to a Royal British Legion memorial, intending to damage such property or being reckless as to whether such property would be damaged on October 4 last year.

The 44-year-old is also charged with having an indecent image of a child on November 14, but there have been claims the image is more akin to a "vulgar joke".

The offence of criminal damage arose after a memorial to soldiers killed in the Narrow Water ambush was destroyed.

Poppy crosses, wreaths and floral tributes were destroyed in the incident, believed to be the fourth attack in the past 12 months.

The memorial commemorates the 18 soldiers who died in the 1979 IRA double bomb attack, the largest single loss of life suffered by the security forces during the Troubles.

A previous court heard how the case against McKeegan involves CCTV images from cameras installed in the area following previous acts of vandalism.

A prosecuting lawyer outlined to Belfast High Court: "One male exited the lorry while chatting on a mobile phone, kicking crosses and wreathes off display and damaging the memorial."

The incident on the main Newry to Warrenpoint Road occurred at 7.30am and lasted for three minutes before the perpetrator drove off.

Dash cam footage was examined as part of enquiries to locate the lorry involved.

McKeegan was then arrested after being stopped on the M1 and it has been claimed that his T-shirt appeared to be the same type as that worn by the man depicted in the CCTV images.

Cell site analysis is being carried out in a bid to establish the location of the accused's phone at the time of the attack.

In court yesterday a prosecution lawyer physically handed copies of the CCTV footage to defence solicitor Conor Downey who confirmed he had also received "a certain amount of documents".

He added: "I don't think there's anything else outstanding."

Judge Keown asked if the case against McKeegan was "proceeding summarily" and the prosecution confirmed that it would be remaining in the magistrates court.

In the Magistrates Court, the offence of criminal damage carries a two-year maximum, but has a 14-year maximum in the more powerful Crown Court.

Having an indecent image of a child has maximum sentences of six months and five years respectively depending on the court.

Belfast Telegraph