Garda received bomb threats during Queen’s visit, court hears

Phonecall to Longford station warned of explosives on buses and at Sinn Féin building

Former president  Mary McAleese and her husband Martin accompany Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip  to the state dinner at Dublin Castle in 2011. File photograph: Julien Behal/Reuters

Former president Mary McAleese and her husband Martin accompany Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to the state dinner at Dublin Castle in 2011. File photograph: Julien Behal/Reuters

 

A phonecall to Longford Garda station on the eve of the state visit of Queen Elizabeth five years ago threatened there were bombs on buses and in Sinn Féin’s headquarters, the Special Criminal Court has heard.

Donal Billings (65) of St Bridget’s Court, Drumlish, Co Longford, is charged before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin with the unlawful possession of an explosive substance at Longford railway station car park on May 16th, 2011.

Mr Billings is further charged with four offences under the Criminal Law Act 1976 of knowingly making false reports tending to show that an offence had been committed.

The charges allege that he made a false report within the State on May 16th, 2011, that bombs had been placed at Busáras and at Sinn Féin’s headquarters in Dublin.

He is also charged with making a false report on May 18th that two mortars were set for Dublin Castle, and with making a false report on May 20th that two bombs had been placed in the toilets at Cork Airport.

On Tuesday, Mr Billings pleaded not guilty to each of the five charges.

Before the trial opened, prosecution barrister Garnet Orange told the court that Mr Billings had invoked his right to be tried in Irish and that it was therefore necessary to have interpreters for the accused man and the prosecution.

Giving evidence, Garda Peter O’Donnell told the court that on May 16th, 2011, he was on duty at Longford Garda station.

At 8.16pm the station received a phonecall from a male caller, the court heard.

Garda O’Donnell said that he was told to “listen carefully” and that there was a bomb on a Corduff travel Ballina to Dublin bus, a second bomb on a bus at Busáras and a third bomb at Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin.

The Garda said that he did not recognise the voice.

Number of threats

Earlier, opening the prosecution case, Mr Orange told the court that in mid-May, 2011, Queen Elizabeth was visiting Ireland for a number of days.

Before and during her visit, the barrister said, a number of bomb threats were made to gardaí at Longford Garda station.

Mr Orange said the court would hear that arising from these bomb threats an investigation was commenced and a Corduff travel bus was identified and stopped in Maynooth, Co Kildare, before local gardaí evacuated the passengers and conducted a search.

There would be evidence that while searching the baggage area a garda found a suspect device, Mr Orange said, adding that a member of the Garda Ballistics Section would give his opinion that the device contained an explosive substance.

It was effectively a bomb using a firework as a detonator and a quantity of flammable liquid attached to it, Mr Orange said.

The places mentioned in the other threats were also searched and nothing of significance was found, he added.

The court would also hear evidence, the lawyer said, that on May 18th Queen Elizabeth was due to attend a State function at Dublin Castle and that Longford Garda station received a specific threat that two mortars were set to target the castle.

There would be evidence that gardaí searched the area around the castle but found nothing of significance, Mr Orange added.

The court would also hear evidence that a final phonecall to Longford Garda station, allegedly made on May 20th of that year, threatened there were two bombs left in the toilet area of Cork Airport and that Queen Elizabeth was due to fly from the airport around that time.

The airport was searched but nothing was found, Mr Orange said.

Evidence related to the phone number used to call Longford Garda station will also form part of the prosecution case.

The court will be told that gardaí were able to determine the SIM card for this particular phone number had been bought in an O2 shop in Longford Shopping Centre on May 16th.

Mr Orange said that Det Sgt Padraig Jones would tell the court that he viewed the CCTV footage from the O2 shop and the shopping centre and identified the man who bought the SIM card in question and tracked him as he walked through the shopping centre.

Evidence that on May 20th Mr Billings became a person of interest to gardaí, arising from information available to them, would be presented to the court, Mr Orange said, adding that after the accused man’s arrest his car was searched and a package for an O2 SIM card was found.

Mr Orange told the court that various numbers would be relevant to the case, including Longford Garda station’s number, the phone number that made the calls and also the IMEI number – a unique number used to identify mobile devices – attached to a Motorola mobile phone.

This is relevant, Mr Orange said, because when the accused was arrested and his car was searched gardaí found a Motorola mobile phone with that IMEI number.

The trial is expected to last four weeks and continues in front of Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge Cormac Dunne.