Dissidents 'endanger children's lives' by hiding device in Belfast's Holy Cross school grounds
Dissident republicans endangered the lives of children when they hid an "improvised weapon" capable of firing a "high calibre round" in a north Belfast school's sewer, the PSNI has said.
Staff and around 300 pupils at Holy Cross Boys' Primary School were forced to leave the building after a suspicious object was discovered in Brookfield Street on Monday, September 23. The school remained closed on Tuesday..
The weapon was found by principal Kevin McArevey who made the discovery while helping the school caretaker unblock a sewer.
"I lifted a manhole cover and to my surprise I saw a plastic bag with what seemed to be something heavy in it," Mr McArevey told UTV.
"I initially thought it was a small spade so I lifted it out myself and unravelled the packaging only to be surprised to see wires at the top of this object.
"It immediately aroused my suspicions so I went and I phoned the police."
He said he thought it was "absolutely disgraceful that some sort of device like that would be put into the sewerage system of a children's primary school".
The discovery was made close to where dissident republicans staged a show of strength with homemade rocket launchers in 2016.
Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts said last night that police believe the weapon was "probably destined to be used in an attempt to kill or seriously injure police officers".
He described the item recovered as an "improvised weapon" which had the potential to fire a "high calibre round".
"Our working theory at this time is that this weapon was most likely to have been left there by dissident republican terrorists," he said.
He condemned those who left the weapon in the grounds of the school.
"I would like to say that this is an act of the utmost recklessness and a highly stupid act. The people that have done this do not represent any kind of cause, they do not represent any section of the community. What they have done is endanger the lives of children," Mr Roberts said.
"The device was left in the immediate area where the youngest children who attend school would be playing during the course of the school day.
"A very, very dangerous act and I would appeal for anybody who has any information to contact the police."
He said that the PSNI's Terrorism Investigation Unit had launched an investigation into the weapon, "its history and who may have left it there".
"It's very important, particularly given the circumstances where it was left in the immediate area where children were playing, that anybody with information contacts the police," he said.
The weapon was discovered close to where Ardoyne father Michael McGibbon was fatally shot by dissident republicans in April 2016. In December that year, a video emerged of members of the so-called New IRA with rocket launchers in nearby Butler Place, where the 33-year-old father-of-four bled to death in his wife's arms.
Sinn Fein councillor Ryan Murphy tweeted the alert was "worrying" but added he was "glad that all staff and pupils were evacuated safely".
SDLP North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said: "This is disgraceful.
"To create a device and then hide it in the grounds of a primary school shows how low these people will go and the complete disregard and disrespect they have for the community.
"They're happy to put children, parents and school staff at risk.
"No principal and no school should have to experience this."