Belfast Telegraph

Man had fertiliser for bomb twice size of Omagh blast

Timer units never seen before in NI among vast explosives haul

By Mickey Donnelly

A convicted gunman caught red-handed in a police undercover operation on the Irish border had enough fertiliser for a bomb at least twice as big as the 1998 Omagh explosion that killed 29.

Antrim Crown Court heard that among the items Barry Francis Joseph Petticrew admitted having were three timer power units never seen before in Northern Ireland and 500 kilos of high-grade nitrate-based fertiliser, which is typically used in home-made explosives.

To put that in context, the Omagh bomb of 1998 weighed between 150 and 250 kilos, while the Canary Wharf was 1,000 kilos, and those left in Banbridge and Portadown before Omagh were 150 kilos, Judge Gordon Kerr QC was told.

Petticrew (45), originally from Belfast, had been living in Swanlinbar in Co Cavan at the time of his arrest.

He has been in custody since the raid on the Fermanagh farm buildings at Kinawley on October 8, 2014.

A defence lawyer described Petticrew, convicted by the Central Criminal Court in Dublin for gun offences in 2009, as a vulnerable man with a low IQ who was trying to protect his father while being preyed upon and used by more sinister and sophisticated individuals.

He added that his client had instructed him to disassociate him from any political affiliation, and in the unusual circumstances of this case the court could temper the need for deterrent sentences.

However, a prosecution lawyer said that the gun Petticrew was convicted in Dublin of trying to smuggle into Belfast was a Browning 9mm pistol and ammunition, and despite his claims they were of little odds as his role on this occasion was that of a "trusted one".

A year before being caught, in 2013, the defendant helped form part of guard of honour at a republican funeral, the court heard.

Earlier, the barrister revealed Petticrew was caught on camera moving materials to and from a van, and between the farmhouse and outbuildings. When he realised he was being watched, he made a dash for the border.

Discarding the gloves he was wearing as he ran across fields, he was stopped just 500 yards from the border.

When caught, a breathless Petticrew protested his innocence, telling officers: "I'm not a terrorist. I'm not involved in actual terrorism or criminality."

He later repeated that he was "not involved" despite a surveillance video showing him moving the likes of a gas cylinder and a black training bag later found to contain explosive devices.

Petticrew claimed he only went to the farm to feed the cattle and to fix a shower, constantly denying carrying anything, while also suggesting his family was under threat.

He additionally alleged that he had found a wire leading to the roof space, where he uncovered the ammunition.

In all, there were more than 160 rounds of long rifle ammunition, normally used for vermin control, hunting and sport shooting and 30 rounds of 7.62mm, together with a quantity of 9mm ammunition, used by the military and security forces.

There were also 100 boxes of shotgun cartridges.

The prosecution lawyer said that in addition to the gas cylinder Petticrew was seen putting into the van, there was another in one of the outbuildings.

Other explosive materials included the eight-second timer units never seen before in Northern Ireland, six pipe bombs, coffee-jar type devices devoid of explosives, rotary battery timer units, as well as mechanical timer units and a number of toggle switches.

During a three-day search of the farm buildings, detonating cord, a coffee grinder, explosive filling, a mortar base, fertiliser, disposable suits, rubber gloves, dust masks, cutting discs, a glue gun and electrical tape were also uncovered.

In defence, the court heard that the background to Petticrew's offending stemmed from wanting to help his father, who was planning to move into the farmhouse once it was repaired.

Unfortunately, and to his detriment, he became associated with more sinister and sophisticated elements who preyed upon him, it was alleged.

The lawyer said it was his argument that Petticrew did not know fully what was going on and had only been to the farm on about four or five occasions.

"His instructions are he never brought anything to this house and never had contact with any of these items," said the lawyer.

He further claimed Petticrew did not know how long they had been at the farm and "had no idea who brought them".

The defendant had been foolhardy by becoming involved, stupidly permitting himself to be used, said the lawyer, knowing his father wanted to move into the farmhouse.

In all, Petticrew pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing explosive substances with intent, possession of articles useful to terrorists and possession of ammunition, also with intent.

The defendant is due to be sentenced next week.

Belfast Telegraph


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