Bomber caught in the act of booby-trapping policeman's car gets 25-year jail term for 'sophisticated terrorist plot'
A Co Armagh terrorist jailed for 25 years over a dissident republican plot to murder a policeman with a car bomb was only thwarted in his "evil intentions" by "sheer luck", a senior PSNI officer said.
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell was speaking after Sean McVeigh - who was previously linked to the murder of prison officer David Black - was sentenced yesterday.
The 38-year-old, of Victoria Gardens in Lurgan, was found guilty last month of attempting to kill the off-duty officer and possessing explosives with intent to supply almost four years ago.
McVeigh had denied both charges but did not give evidence on his own behalf and refused to recognise the court.
Following his non-jury trial last August, Judge Stephen Fowler QC said he was "satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt" that McVeigh was the terrorist who planted the bomb under the officer's car in Eglinton in Co Londonderry in the early hours of June 18 2015.
The judge said the attack was a "well thought-out, sophisticated, premeditated and well-planned terrorist plot" against a police officer, and the device was "an elaborate one, carefully constructed to ensure maximum damage".
Afterwards, DCI Caldwell said it was pure luck that no-one had been injured through McVeigh's "evil intentions".
"In the middle of the night on June 18, 2015, Sean McVeigh attempted to attach a bomb under the car of a male police officer when he was disturbed by the victim's wife, who is also a serving officer," he said.
"It was simply through sheer luck that the woman woke up, looked out her bedroom window and caught Sean in the act or two police officers could potentially have been seriously injured or murdered," said the senior officer.
"Sean McVeigh chose to attack two officers who had selflessly chosen to protect their community and keep people safe despite the ever present threat posed by dissident republicans.
"I am thankful that despite Sean's evil intentions, he was unable to take these people away from their families and destroy numerous lives all in the name of his warped ideology."
DCI Caldwell said McVeigh's "reckless actions" could have caused devastating harm to other residents living in the area if the bomb had exploded.
Welcoming the sentencing, he added: "His plan was to destroy lives and it demonstrates the ruthlessness and recklessness of those opposed to peace and who live for violence.
"Northern Ireland is a safer place with this terrorist removed from our streets."
McVeigh is eligible to apply for parole after serving half of his 25 year sentence.
However, if the Parole Commissioners believe he still poses a significant risk of serious harm to the public in the future under dangerous provisions, he will serve the remainder of his sentence in prison.
At the end of the 25-year sentence, McVeigh will then be released and will remain on licence for a further five years as part of the extended custodial sentence.
He was also handed a concurrent 20 year sentence for possession of explosives with intent to endanger life along with an extended custodial sentence of five years.
In 2014 McVeigh was charged with the murder of Mr Black, who was shot dead on the M1 in November 2012 as he made his way to work at Maghaberry Prison.
As well as murder, McVeigh was also charged with possessing an assault rifle with the intent to endanger life. However, the charges were dropped by the Public Prosecution Service.
After walking free from Craigavon Magistrates Court in July 2014, McVeigh signalled his intention to sue the PPS and PSNI for the time he had spent in custody.
Yesterday, during sentencing for the Co Londonderry murder bid, Judge Fowler said the attempt to murder the police officer in Eglinton "was a terrifying ordeal" for him and his wife who were "targeted at their home, at the dead of night by dissident republican terrorists still wedded to violence and who use violence to pursue their aims''.
The judge said the bomb murder plot could not only have killed the couple but there "could have been multiple deaths", including members of the public as the device was left in a residential area.
Judge Fowler described the device as "sophisticated", which contained 322 grammes of high grade Semtex explosives with the main compound being RDX, along with a mercury tilt switch, timer, battery and toggles.
The main component was a copper cone and he said that on detonation it would "form a copper rod" which would then penetrate the vehicle and had the potential to cause multiple deaths.
McVeigh, said the judge, had placed the device under the car and he had played a "central role in this murderous attempt'' on the officer to "further the aims of the dissident republican cause".
Judge Fowler said there were numerous aggravating factors in the case including that McVeigh had "shown a complete lack of remorse ... culpability is high" and was a "committed dissident republican terrorist".
A number of men sitting in the public gallery raised their right arms with clenched fists as McVeigh was led away to start his 25 year sentence.
With 36 convictions on his record including assaults on police, Judge Fowler said it showed McVeigh had an "antagonism towards police".
Two other men are currently awaiting extradition from Republic to Northern Ireland over the murder plot.