A dissident republican suspect accused of having “ready to deploy” mortars was today granted compassionate bail to attend a family funeral.
Bail was granted under strict conditions to Seamus McLaughlin after former Northeren Ireland international and Derry City footballer Tony O’Doherty put up £5,000 of “his own personal money” as surety.
The 66-year-old businessmen agreed to chaperone the defendant to his 32-year-old cousin’s funeral on Thursday, January 9, at the Holy Family Catholic Church, Ballymagroarty in the city.
McLauglin (35), of Eastway Gardens, in Derry’s Creggan estate, was arrested on Sunday, March 3 last year following a surveillance operation, Belfast Crown Court heard.
A prosecuting lawyer said McLaughlin was the driver of a white Citroen Berlingo van which police believe was driving in convoy with a motor cycle which was driven by a co-accused, Gary McDaid.
The two dissident republican terror suspects are jointly charged with possessiion of explosives with intent to endanger life and conspiracy to cause explosions.
Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland was told that the van had travelled a short distance along the Letterkenny Road before it was stopped by the police around 8.15 pm.
“The roof of the van had been cut open and the hole covered over with tape,” said the prosecution lawyer.
“Inside the rear of the van was found four mortar tubes loaded with mortars and it was ballasted in order to keep the mortars in position to fire.
“In the front passenger seat was a timer power unit which was connected to the firing mechanism of the mortar.
“The mortar tubes were loaded, they were connected together and were ready to deploy. They were ready to go.
“Clearly they were capable of causing damage to property and persons at its intended target.
“It was a serious offence in its nature.
“The person travelling behind on the motorbike, Mr McDaid, was carrying a second helmet.”
The lawyer said it was the prosecution case that once the timer power unit had been set using a toggle device, McLaughlin was to have been taken away from the scene by McDaid.
The court heard a blast incendiary type device was found in the footwell of the front passenger seat which was also connnected to a separate timer power unit with its own toggle device.
“It is the prosecution case that once the mortars had been fired the secondary device was to have exploded in an effort to destroy any forensic evidence.”
The lawyer said the timer power unit on the “improvised” mortars was set at 60 minutes once it reached its target of a police station in Derry.
The timer power unit on the blast incendiary device was set at 80 minutes.
However, Judge McFarland was told that the blast incendiary device would not have been capble of ingniting if the mortars had been fired.
The prosecuting lawyer said there was “properly founded concerns” that McLaughlin would abscond while out on compassaionte bail, would not turn up for his trial and would also “re-engage in these activities.”
A defence barrister said McLaughlin was seeking compassionate bail as he had a close relationship with his cousin who had suddenly died a few days earlier and he wanted to attend her 10 am funeral Mass.
He added that Tony O’Doherty of the Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership in Derry was prepared to put up a £5,000 surety and also escort McLaughlin to and from the funeral.
Mr O’Doherty told Judge McFarland: “I have known Seamus McLaughlin since he was a young boy growing up in the Creggan.
“I trust him 100 per cent. I could not see him doing anything to damage my own reputation.
“I can lodge a surety of £5,000 into court. It is my own personal money,” added the former Northern Ireland, Derry City and Coleraine football player.
Judge McFarland said that in the circumstances he was prepared to grant McLaughlin compassionate bail but under strict conditions.
The Recorder ordred that McLaughlin be collected by Mr O’Doherty from Maghaberry prison and taken directly to Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty and then onto the City Cemetery for the burial.
The judge said the accused had to sign bail at Strand Road PSNI station between 12 pm and 1 pm on the day of the funeral and then taken back to Maghaberry prison “forthwith” by Mr O’Doherty.
McLaughlin was banned from using a mobile phone or the internet while on bail and was not to travel in any other motor vehicle other than Mr O’Doherty’s car.
However, the judge said it would be difficult to impose the condition put forward by the prosecution of “having no contact with dissident republican groups” while on bail.
Judge MCFarland ordered that the £5,000 surety be lodged into court before McLaughlin could be released from custody.
McLaughlin, who was returned for trial last month, is to be arraigned at Belfast Crown Court on Monday, January 13 on the explosives charges.