Northern Ireland duo caged for bomb terror campaign in England
Two men from Northern Ireland have been jailed for their part in a bombing and intimidation campaign in England.
"Paid mercenary" Thomas Leslie was jailed for 14 years for plotting nail bomb attacks.
The 35-year-old, of Crumlin Road in Belfast, was convicted of conspiring to cause explosions and conspiring to make threats to kill at Stafford Crown Court, following the blasts in Staffordshire last August.
Also sent to prison for five years was Andrew Boal, an associate of Leslie, who was convicted of conspiring to make threats to kill.
Boal (32), of The Brae in Ballygowan, Co Down, made a series of threatening phone calls to people in Staffordshire as part of the campaign of intimidation.
He was also charged with conspiring to cause explosions but was acquitted by the jury.
Pipe-bombs containing hundreds of nails were planted at three homes and detonated as part of a campaign of intimidation initiated by Staffordshire businessman Jason Taft.
Nobody was hurt in the blasts, but experts said the devices had the potential to maim and kill.
Taft brought Leslie and his father Thomas Leslie snr into the plot after they were introduced by a mutual associate, and both men played a key role in the campaign, helping to build the bombs and organise the death threats.
Judge Mark Eades sentenced Leslie and Boal yesterday along with three other men convicted in connection with the conspiracies.
He told Leslie: "You did not instigate this campaign. It had nothing to do with you. You were a paid mercenary.
"You bear a heavy responsibility, but not as great as Jason Taft."
Dafydd Enoch QC, for Leslie, told the court that the primary reason the Belfast man had come to England was to assist his father, who is in poor health.
Mr Enoch said: "He was encouraged to accompany his father because of his condition.
"It was Mr Leslie snr who was at the sharper end of whatever deeds that occurred," he added.
Leslie snr was charged with the same offences as his son, but he did not stand trial because of his ill health.
Judge Eades said Taft had employed a man from Northern Ireland for this role specifically because it would inspire fear of terrorism in the victims.
Stephen Reardon QC, for Boal, told the court that his client had been a "footsoldier, rather than a commander" in the conspiracy.
Taft (41), of Bagnall, who orchestrated the bombings and threats as part of a feud with former business partner Jason Sherratt, was also convicted of conspiring to cause explosions and conspiring to make threats to kill. He was jailed for 16 years.
Judge Eades told Taft: "This was a campaign of threats, threats to kill and bombings".
Taft's employees Kevin Proctor (44) of Sandy Lane, Brown Edge, and Martin Drewery (43) of The Greenways, Baddeley Green, who were convicted of conspiring to cause explosions, were each jailed for nine years.