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Hoax bomb call man jailed for 'campaign of chaos' in bid to 'get back at the PSNI' over flag protest

A 26-year old man who was involved in a campaign of chaos in Newtownabbey which included a crude device being left outside a Chapel and a hoax device at the home of a DUP councillor was today handed a 26-month sentence.

Belfast Crown Court heard that while Robert Colgan was not a member of any paramilitary organisation, he made a total of six hoax bomb calls, a majority of which he said were on behalf of the 'Real UDA.'

He will spend 13 months of his sentence in custody, with the remaining months on supervised licence when he is released from custody.

Branded as "immature", the father of four from Mournebeg Drive in the Rathcoole area of Newtownabbey was told his five week campaign caused widespread disruption.

Belfast Crown Court heard Colgan's offending was part of the flag protest, and he acted as he did due to a desire to "get back" at the PSNI. Judge Brian Sherrard told Colgan "your actions will have served to ratchet up an already tense situation in our community."

The Judge also spoke of the terror felt by the family of the targeted councillor - promoting him to comment that an attack on the home of an elected representative "strikes at the heart of our very democracy".

Colgan pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing explosives in suspicious circumstances - namely a blast bomb-improvised device, and to six charges of communicating false information causing a bomb hoax. He also admitted a further four counts of placing an article causing a bomb hoax.

All the offending took place on dates between January 31 and March 4, 2013, which Crown prosecutor Robin Steer said was against a backdrop of the flag protests.

Outlining the offending in chronological order, Mr Steer said the first incident took place on January 31, when a 999 call was made to the emergency services, claiming a blast bomb had been left outside the Harvey Norman store in Newtownabbey.

The call was made from a telephone box and when it was later examined for forensic evidence, a swab was taken from the mouthpiece which was found to bear Colgan's DNA.

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Robert Colgan

Robert Colgan

Robert Colgan

On February 15, the emergency services received a call claiming a device had been left at a public telephone box near the junction of Knockenagh Avenue and the O'Neill Road in Newtownabbey. A crude device was later located in the residential area.

Another call was made to the emergency services 11 days later, this time claiming a blast bomb had been planted at a bridge at the pedestrian underpass at Hazelbank Park in the town. On this occasion, the caller made reference to the 'Real UDA' and a crude device was found in the area.

The following day, the home of Councillor Billy Ball was the target for a hoax bomb alert. The emergency services received a call claiming a bomb had been left on the window of the Rathfern property, and again reference was made to the 'Real UDA'. A hoax device which had cable protruding from it was later found.

Mr Steer said that in this incident, the DUP Councillor and his family had to be evacuated to a nearby leisure centre. This, he said, was a "terrifying ordeal for all of the family." He also said that prior to the hoax alert, Councillor Ball had "challenged a group of people blocking the road as part of the flag protest."

On February 28, another call was made and this time it was claimed a bomb had been left in the O'Neill Road area of the Co Antrim town. The caller mentioned the 'Real UDA' and the crude device consisted of a wrapped up cannister of hair mousse with cable protruding.

On March 2, a 999 call was made claiming a bomb had been left outside the St Mary's on the Hill Chapel in Glengormley, Mention was made of the 'Real UDA' and when the area was searched, a blast bomb was located on an access ramp. The device, which included scores of bangers, was subsequently examined by forensic experts and was deemed to be viable. Swabs were taken from the device and Colgan's DNA was found on a piece of tape.

The following day, another hoax bomb call was made claiming there was a device in the Hazelbank area.

And in the early hours of March 4, a 999 call was received and again reference was made to the 'Real UDA'. This call claimed a device had been left at the Iceland store on the Doagh Road, and a viable device was later located at the shop's entrance. This device included ten wrapped-up bangers and it was later confirmed to be a blast bomb-type IED.

Mr Steer said Colgan was linked to the bomb at the Chapel forensically, and linked to the bomb at Iceland via a text message he sent which said "We done (sic) Iceland for a laugh."

Colgan was arrested on March 4, and when his home was searched mobile phones were handed over which linked him to some of the hoax bomb calls. Mr Steer said other information on these phones - such as texts and pictures of the emergency services attending at some scenes - indicated Colgan "got a kick out of the volume of disruption he caused."

During interviews, Colgan made 'no comment' answers and was abusive to police. Mr Steer also said it was not possible for the Crown to determine who planted some of the devices, and that Colgan was involved as part of a joint enterprise.

The prosecutor told the court there were eight separate incidents over a five week period and that while these were not sophisticated, there was a "degree of planning". He also branded the incidents as "sectarian in nature" and were "designed to raise tensions in the community" - particularly the blast bomb left at the Chapel.

He also spoke of the widespread disruption caused, which added pressure to policing resources and caused public annoyance.

Mr Steer also told the court Colgan was "an immature individual rather than someone associated with a paramilitary organisation."

Defence barrister Brendan Kelly, instructed by Reavey and Company Solicitors, said that two years has passed since the incidents, and in that time Colgan has shown "a degree of insight and remorse" and has not committed any further offending - proving he was a "young man who is capable of staying out of trouble."

Telling the court his client's offending was "designed in order to cause chaos generally", Mr Kelly said there was "an obvious immaturity attached" to Colgan.

Mr Kelly also revealed that Colgan has been the victim of attacks at the hands of loyalist paramilitaries, which left him traumatised.

Passing sentence, Judge Brian Sherrard said he felt Colgan's offending escalated from hoaxes to viable devices. The Judge also said that after reading a pre-sentence report, Colgan said his intent was to "cause chaos and widespread disruption" which he "clearly" did.

Branding Colgan as "foolish", the Judge spoke not only of the risk to police officers, but also of the disruption to local businesses and those living in the affected areas.

Addressing Colgan, Judge Sherrard said: "There can be no doubt whatsoever that the seriousness of these offences warrants a custodial sentence."

Police today welcomed the two years and two months sentence imposed on a 26-year old man responsible for a series of security alerts in the Newtownabbey area which spanned a three month period two years ago.

Robert Colgan, from Newtownabbey, admitted a total of 12 offences including possession of explosives under suspicious circumstances and communicating false information causing bomb hoax, relating to a series of genuine and hoax alerts between January and March 2013.

Detective Sergeant Gavin Pue said: “The calls Colgan made to police and the subsequent alerts they prompted caused considerable fear and disruption to the community in Newtownabbey.

“Not only did his actions impact on the day to day lives of local people, but he also placed people in real danger by planting genuine explosive devices. Police resources were diverted away from other essential duties to dealing with these alerts and there was also a considerable financial cost incurred, running into tens of thousands of pounds.

“Through rigorous detective work and an extensive analysis of telecommunications data, we were able to identify Robert Colgan as the person responsible for the alerts. His voice was found to be a consistent match with that of the male who which had made the calls to 999 operators and when officers searched his home, they found mobile phones and a variety of other items connected to the alerts.

“Colgan will spend 13 months in jail and 13 months on licence for his actions. The sentence handed down should serve as a warning to others. Anyone who gets involved in such activity, for whatever reason, should realise that there are considerable personal consequences when they are apprehended. We would ask the community to continue to work with us to reduce the threat and upheaval caused by such incidents so that everyone stays safe.”

Belfast Telegraph