In what has ended as one of the most bizarre and novel cases of its kind to come before Northern Ireland’s Diplock non-jury court, a Derry man accused of being a would-be dissident republican bomber was today fined £300 for being a suspected cigarette smuggler.
Gary McDaid (37), of Glenowen Park, Derry, had faced charges of conspiracy to cause an explosion and having explosives with intent to endanger life and in suspicious circumstances two years ago.
However, in February, when a completely new charge was added to his indictment, he admitted and the court heard for the first time, that when stopped as he shadowed a van load of mortars, he was not on his way to bomb a police station, but was “encouraging or assisting” a man “believing” he was a cigarette smuggler.
The man he admitted helping, his former co-accused, 37-year-old Seamus McLaughlin, of Eastway Gardens in Derry’s Creggan estate was jailed for 12 years last November for having four, “ready to deploy’’, improvised mortars and an improvised explosive incendiary device with intent to endanger life on March 3, 2013.
Today Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan said the case had ended in an ‘entirely novel ... and somewhat bizarre’ way as there were never any cigarettes in the Citroen Berlingo van, nor had the court ‘the slightest idea of what quantities’ were to have been involved.
Judge Marrinan said in terms of the court’s determination of sentencing the situation had gone from ‘the sublime to the ridiculous’.
Sentencing McDaid the judge said the charge he faced now was a very different scenario to that faced by his former co-accused, McLaughlin.
Judge Marrinan said now, ‘as we all know there was no cigarettes ... in the vehicle... which was filled with more sinister materials”, but that this was not the case opened against McDaid, that he had any knowledge of what was in the van.
He added that he considered McDaid as ‘very low level’ otherwise the court would have to speculate as to what the quantity of cigarettes were, which would be a purile and dangerous exercise, and that he was dealing with him as someone involved at a very modest level.
In the circumstances, Judge Marrinan said he did not consider that the custody threshold had been crossed in his case, and given his difficult time in jail while awaiting trial he would impose a fine.
He added while it was a case in which the court could say a lot more, he did not think that was an exercise that should be carried out.
Earlier a prosecution lawyer revealed that during a dozen or more police interviews following his arrest, McDaid made no mention of his involvement in the cigarette smuggling plot. That admission only came about when he was arraigned in court in February last.
Reading from a set of agreed facts, the lawyer said the case was being dealt with on the basis of McDaid’s belief that he was helping to smuggle a quantity of cigarettes across the border from Donegal.
He added that ‘the defendant in this case, there was no forensic link, or any other link’ between him, the van, its contents, or McLaughlin.
Defence QC Martin O’Rourke said the basis of McDaid’s belief was based on his knowledge of McLaughlin as someone who would be involved in smuggling, and nothing more sinister and that he was to get a few pounds for acting as an outrider.
Mr O’Rourke said that McDaid had ‘emphatically stated’ that if he had believed for one moment there were explosives, he would never had anything to do with them whatever.
The lawyer also pointed out that before being granted bail McDaid had spent five months in solitary confinement because of fears over his safety in prison. He said that given the original charges he faced he felt under possible pressure from other inmates, and while offered being moved to the republican wing of the jail, he declined.