Republican jailed for Strand Road bomb attack

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A dissident republican who played an “active” role in a bomb attack on a police station has been jailed for 13 years.

Ordering that 44-year-old Philip O’Donnell spend half his sentence in jail and half on licence, Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Burgess warned the self-confessed Oglaigh na H’Eireann (OnH) terrorist that had he been a main player and not a secondary party, he would have faced a jail sentence in excess of 20 years.

“Given the nature of these offences and the terror and threat to life inherent in this attack, this dissident group showed itself only too willing to resort to violence in pursuit of its aims and in doing so, resorted to this highly dangerous act of causing an explosion of this magnitude,” said the judge adding a warning that anyone involved in such attacks “should know that heavy periods of imprisonment will be imposed”.

Earlier he heard that married father-of-four O’Donnell, from Baldrick Crescent in Derry, pleaded guilty to a total of six offences of causing an explosion on August 3 2010, hijacking the taxi the bomb was transported in, falsely imprisoning the taxi driver, memberhip of the outlawed OnH and two further counts of attempted hijacking.

Prosecuting QC Terence Mooney told the court that in the day leading up to a bomb atack on Strand Road PSNI station in the early hours of August 3 2010, there had been a number of attempted hijackings on taxis which had been lured to various parts of the Maiden City but that each had failed.

A short while before the bomb exploded however a driver was called to pick up a fare in Cook Street in the Brandywell area but that when he arrived, two masked gunmen got in and claiming to be from the OnH, ordered him to drive to Glenfida Park where the bomb was put into the boot of his car.

As the car sat parked waiting on the device being delivered, Mr Mooney said one of the gunmen sent a text message after his accomplice told him to “tell them to hurry up”.

Once the device was put into the boot, the lawyer recounted how the driver was ordered to drive his car to the police station, warned that he would be followed and that he if did not follow commands, he would be shot.

On the way, said Mr Mooney, the driver warned his depot what was happening and an evacuation operation was already underway when the car arrived.

Within a short while there had been a warning issued that the bomb would explode in 45 minutes however, as Mr Mooney described, it exploded after just 20 minutes, causing widespread, massive damage to buildings and cars in the area although fortunately no-one was hurt.

The lawyer said such was the intensity of the explosion, an Ammunition Technical Officer could find no trace of the bomb itself but had estimated that it had contained between 50 - 100 kilos of high explosive.

The following day cops raided O’Donnell’s home and recovered two mobile phones which had been used in the dissident republican attack, phones which had been used to either lure taxi drivers or to issue the bomb warning.

On one of the phones, the court heard, was the text message the gunman had sent from the back of the hijacked taxi.

Mr Mooney said it was the Crown view that O’Donnell had “played an active and significant role in the plan” to attack the police station given the fact that he had made the calls to lure the taxi drivers and to issue the bomb warning.

“Although it is accepted that the evidence indicates that he aided and abetted the principals to the offence, nevertheless his role as disclosed by the evidence was important and indicates that he knew the principal elements of the attack,” declared the lawyer adding that the OnH are still involved “in a continuing campaign”.

Defence QC Eilis McDermott revealed that O’Donnell’s political views were influenced when he was a young man and his father was interned but that since the offence, he regretted his involvment and the damage and impact it had had on his own family.

Jailing O’Donnell, Mr Justice Burgess said while there was no victim impact report in the driver who had to transport the bomb, he was in no doubt “this would have been a traumatic experience”.

“This was a calculated criminal venture in which a totally innocent man going about his business...was threatened with being shot and made to carry a highly dangerous weapon which, if it had detonated would undoubtedly have killed him,” said the judge adding that O’Donnell had “willingly involved himself” in the terrorist attack.

Describing him as a “clearly trusted member” of OnH, the judge said that by being a member he had “placed himself within the ambit of the acts and aspirations of a group willing to turn to the indiscriminate use of violence”.