Belfast Telegraph

Christine Connor trial: Police officer recalls moment fizzing device landed at his feet

Christine Connor (PSNI/PA)
Christine Connor (PSNI/PA)

By Ashleigh McDonald

A police officer targeted in a pipe bomb attack in north Belfast on Tuesday has recalled the moment a 'fizzing' device landed at his feet.

The constable was giving evidence at the trial of Christine Connor, who is accused of terrorist offences arising from two incidents in north Belfast in May 2013.

The 34-year old has been charged with, and denies, six charges including causing an explosion likely to endanger life, possessing explosives with  intent and the attempted murder of a police officer.

It is the Crown's case that Connor made a bogus 999 call to an address on the Crumlin Road regarding a domestic incident, and that when police arrived at the address in the early hours of May 26, 2013 they were attacked with two devices.

The Crown also believe Connor was linked to the scene via forensics as gloves found in an alleyway bore her DNA, as did a carrier bag. Imprints from dog faeces at the scene matched imprints from her boots later taken from her home, while CCTC showed a 'heavy female with dark hair' in the area just before the attack.

Her mobile phone was also located close to the scene, as was a hooded top bearing her blood.

Crown prosecutor Liam McCollum QC said that whilst it was not possible to establish who threw the devices at police, evidence "links the defendant to direct participation at the time of the attack."

The two police officers who responded to the bogus 999 call gave evidence at the first day of the non-jury trial being held at Belfast Crown Court.

The first officer said he and a colleague travelled from Tennent Street police station to a house on the upper Crumlin Road at around 2am, and that while his colleague got out of the police vehicle and knocked on the door, he made his way across to Crumlin Road towards an alleyway.

From the witness box, the officer said: "I was concerned, due to recent events running up to it, that the alleyway would have been a good place for an attack, so I was going to check out the alleyway on the other side of the road."

The officer said he was in the middle of the road when he heard a "fizzing sound from over my shoulder then I heard a loud clunk, like metal hitting the ground. I looked over my shoulder and saw a large metal object and it was fizzing, just behind my right heel.

"It took a second to register, then I realised it was a pipe bomb or blast bomb or something similar. Instinct and adrenalin took over and I just ran from the device."

The constable said that when he reached the kerb, he tripped and fell, and that the first device exploded as he lay on his side on the pavement, from where he saw a figure in the alleyway.

The officer said that as he got to his feet following the first explosion, he heard "another metal clunk" and realised a second device had been thrown into the middle of the road.

He said as he headed towards the alleyway he heard "an almighty explosion" in the road and at this point he withdrew his firearm. The officer said there was no-one in the alleyway when he reached it and there were no further attacks.

The constable sustained ringing in his ears as well as cuts and grazes in the incident, which also caused a tear in his flax jacket.

Also called to give evidence was the other officer who attended the bogus 999 call, who said he became aware of the first explosion as he was knocking the door of the house where the alleged incident was reported to have taken place.

The constable said: "I heard what I can describe as a fizzing noise, like a fuse burning, then I observed sparks. I could hear the metallic sound of something bouncing across the road. It looked to me like a pipe bomb. Quite a large one."

The officer said that while he didn't see where the device came from, he believed it came from the alleyway. He said he shouted at his colleague to run, and transmitted a call over his police radio.

When asked what he did next, the policeman replied: "I was looking out onto the Crumlin Road, and there was a small wall to my right hand side, so I took cover by lying flat on the ground beside it.

"I heard the explosion of the pipe bomb detonating. It was incredibly loud and I could feel the vibrations through my whole body. I would say I have never experienced anything like that before."

The officer added that when he realised there was a second device, he again "took cover and waited for it to detonate."

Connor, whose address cannot be published due to a reporting restriction, was arrested and questioned about the incident - and while she gave a 'no comment' response to police, during her seventh interview, she provided a prepared statement.

In this, she claimed she had been in the area on the night in question as she was a member of Weightwatchers and was out walking as part of her exercise programme.

She also claimed that whilst walking along the Crumlin Road, she heard two loud explosions that made her drop her phone, and that she sustained a cut to her hand due to flying debris.

As well as denying involvement in this, Connor has also denied playing a part in an incident 12 days prior to the pipe bomb attack.

The Crown say that Connor was behind a 'practice run' on the Ligoneil Road in the early hours of May 16, 2013, when an explosion occurred which left two scorch marks on the road.

A couple who had just returned from holiday and who were travelling along the Ligoneil Road at around 2am were also called to give evidence at today's hearing.

The male motorist recalled hearing a loud bang in front of his car which forced him to swerve, while his partner said "there were two loud bangs in front of the car and a lot of flashing and a great deal of black smoke."

The couple then drove to Tennent Street police station to report the incident.

The Crown said Connor is also linked to this, and the evidence against her includes a movie file found on a laptop which was concealed in a hole in the mattress of her bed during a subsequent search of her home.

The Crown say this clip, accompanied by a female commentator, is Connor undertaking the trial run ahead of the attack on police on May 28.

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