THE FEMALE Ulsterbus driver hailed a heroine after refusing to transport a bomb to a police headquarters – and getting her vehicle to “as safe a place as possible” – had a lucky escape, says a police commander.
Derry police commander Chief Superintendent Stephen Cargin revealed the device was viable and had been placed in the seat directly behind the driver who, although not injured, has been highly traumatised by her ordeal.
Chief Supt Cargin said while the device was small it had the capability of killing or causing serious injury.
Praising the driver for her bravery, CS Cargin said she had a lucky escape.
The police commander said those responsible for the incident were reckless and had put lives at risk.
CS Cargin appealed to anyone who witnessed the incident or anyone with any information to contact detectives at Strand Road on 0845 600 8000.
Or, if someone would prefer to provide information without giving their details they could contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.
The driver’s bravery has also been praised by Translink chiefs who said she carried out the proper procedure by getting passengers off the bus and driving to a safe as place as possible.
Earlier, a senior PSNI officer also commended the driver for her actions.
“Her first priority was to get the bus away from the built-up area around Ballymagroarty,” he said.
“She did her very best in very traumatic circumstances and she was badly shaken by the experience. But she did the right thing. She could have saved many lives.
The alert began after 6.00pm when a masked man, who said he was from “the IRA,” boarded the bus in the densely populated Ballymagroarty estate and placed a holdall containing the bomb in the seat directly behind the driver and told her to take it to PSNI headquarters on Strand Road in the city centre.
Up to 10 passengers were on the bus at the time.
After getting the passengers off the bus, the driver drove the vehicle for about a mile and pulled into a bus stop on Northland Road before abandoning it and alerting police.
A number of businesses were forced to close and hundreds of staff evacuated as a result of the alert.
Around 300 workers at the First Source call centre were evacuated and number of businesses in a retail park were also forced to shut including a pharmacy offering a late night service, a convenience store and a fast food takeaway.
A number of residents. including an elderly wheelchair user, were moved out of their homes in Springvale Park and Liscannor Park areas.
They were allowed to return to their homes shortly after 3.30am this morning.
The Northland Road, which had been closed between Branch Roundabout and Springtown Road, has been reopened.
The incident has been widely condemned.
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan paid tribute to the driver’s “courage and resilience.”
Mr Durkan said: “I would like to express my admiration for this woman – as well as sympathy to her for what she has gone through.
“She was doing an honest job serving the public only to find herself cynically subjected to this ordeal – bringing predicament, danger and distress upon her.
“The fact that she coped so well is no thanks to those behind this calculated malice.”
Mr Durkan concluded: “We are all thankful that we have been spared the horrendous outcome that was intended – thanks to the courage and resilience of this woman in such terrible circumstances.”
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy also commended the driver’s actions.
He said: “I want to first praise the bravery of the bus driver who had to deal with this frightening situation. The driver showed immense courage under very difficult circumstances.”
He added: “Attacks on public transport impact the entire community who depend on buses and trains.”
Mayor Martin Reilly said it was a “worrying development” that public transport was being “hijacked to transport bombs across the city.”
Deputy Mayor Gary Middleton said every right-thinking person would condemn the incident.
He said: “This is the type of thing we hoped we had left behind. There are so many fantastic things going on in the city right now, but this has the potential to deflect from all of that.”
Sinn Fein councillor Eric McGinley, who visited the scene, said he unreservedly condemned the actions of those responsible while SDLP councillor John Boyle described the incident as ”unacceptable” and called on anyone with information to contact the PSNI.