Man accused of key role in bomb hoax aimed at Coveney remanded in custody

Gym owner alleged to have driven car had £100,000 in cash, drugs and UVF badges at home

A gym owner allegedly drove gunmen to the scene of a hijacking as part of a terrorist bomb hoax targeting a north Belfast peace event attended by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Darren Service (40) is accused of playing a pivotal role in a politically-motivated attack which led to Mr Coveney being evacuated from the venue last Friday.

Police said a workman was ordered to transport what he believed were live explosives to a nearby church amid threats to harm his family.

Mr Service, of Ballysillan Road in Belfast, was charged by detectives investigating a plot being attributed to the Ulster Volunteer Force as part of escalating tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol.


He appeared at Belfast magistrates’ court to face counts of preparation of terrorist acts, hijacking and placing an article causing a bomb hoax.

Mr Coveney was giving a speech on peace-building at the Houben Centre on the Crumlin Road but had to be taken from the venue as the alert began. A funeral taking place at the Holy Cross Church was also disrupted.

The court heard two masked men with handguns got into the victim’s van at Sydney Street West that morning, took the vehicle to Upper Charleville Street, placed a suspected bomb placed in the rear, and ordered him to drive to the chapel.

A senior detective said: “The suspects threatened to shoot the injured party and harm his family if he didn’t do as instructed.

“He was informed that a car would be following him to ensure he carried out his instructions.”


With his phone and wallet confiscated, the workman drove to the Houben Centre and alerted police. The area was evacuated before bomb-disposal experts dealt with the hoax device.

Mr Service is allegedly connected to the incident by CCTV footage of a grey Skoda Superb travelling slowly in Sydney Street West just before the hijacking.

Police claim this is the same, unidentified vehicle which dropped off the masked gunmen who then approached the van.

The court heard Mr Service received the Skoda on a temporary basis after leaving his own car in a garage on March 22nd.

Searches carried out at his home led to the discovery of two balaclavas, three lapel pins with UVF logos, an air rifle and a quantity of suspected class-B drugs. High-value jewellery and bundles of cash were also found in a safe.

“We believe that’s in the vicinity of £100,000, but that has to be counted and confirmed,” the detective said.

Mr Service was arrested after presenting himself at a police station on March 27th. Although the defendant accepted driving the Skoda in the area, he denies this was the car from which the gunmen emerged.

He claimed the UVF badges were bought at a band parade because he liked the colours, but disputes any affiliation with the organisation. The balaclavas and air rifle were used for pigeon hunting, while the cash came from savings, according to his account.

Opposing bail, the detective claimed the hijacking is linked to protests and disturbances over the protocol, and was specifically carried out because of Mr Coveney’s attendance at the peace event.

“With subsequent statements by loyalist paramilitaries that they would carry out further attacks in relation to the protocol and Irish Ministers, we believe the presence of the UVF pins in his house is also significant,” he said.

Defence counsel Paul Bacon challenged the strength of evidence against his client and argued the case was based on the hiring of the Skoda. “It’s conjecture and joining the dots,” he said.

Refusing bail, deputy district judge Liam McStay cited the risks of further offending and interference with the investigation. He remanded Mr Service in custody.