Belfast Crown Court: Dissident republican sentenced to 25 years for attempted murder of police officers

Crown Court
Crown Court

A dissident republican who was caught planting a bomb under a police officer’s car in 2015 has been sentenced to 25 years for the attempted murder of two police officers, together with a concurrent sentence of 20 years for possession of explosives with intent to endanger life.

Sitting in Belfast Crown Court, Judge Fowler commented that the man’s central role in the attack demonstrated his high level of commitment to the dissident republican cause and his willingness to murder to further its ends without the slightest semblance of remorse.

Under vehicle improvised explosive device

At around 2.45am on Thursday 18 June 2015, Sean McVeigh was witnessed attaching an improvised explosive device under a police officer’s car in Eglinton, Co Derry. The car was parked outside the home of two serving police officers, AB and BB, and Mr McVeigh escaped in a dark coloured Volkswagen Passat when AB saw him crouched down beside the car and hammered on the window.

Judge Fowler said it was “entirely fortuitous that the planting of the bomb was discovered and the loss of life averted”, that AB and BB could both have been in the car and murdered, and that it was a terrifying ordeal for both of them.

The improvised explosive device comprised of approximately 322 grams of Semtex containing the explosive compound RDX.

This was the first Under Vehicle Improvised Explosive Device (UVIED) recovered incorporating a copper cone – the purpose being that on detonation the cone deforms into a rod-shaped projectile capable of considerable destructive penetration.

The Volkswagen Passat, and another vehicle involved in the attack, a Toyota Verso, were observed driving towards Brigend, Co Donegal. Mr McVeigh and two other suspects, Ciaran Maguire and Sean Farrell, were arrested outside Killygordon, Co Donegal in the Passat.

RDX residue was found on Mr McVeigh’s clothing, and in the front passenger footwell of the Passat. Mr Maguire and Mr Farrell’s DNA together with RDX residue was also found on gloves which were found on the road along which the Passat had been pursued by An Garda Síochána.

The Toyota Verso had been abandoned in Lifford, and was also found to have RDX residue in the front passenger footwell, the front passenger floor mat, and the glove box. The key to this car was found in the possession of Mr Farrell.

When interviewed, Mr McVeigh did not respond to questions and failed to give evidence in Court.

Assessment of dangerousness

Judge Fowler said the offences in this case were both “serious” and “specified” violent offences for the purposes of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, and that an assessment of dangerousness was necessary.

Where the offence is a serious offence committed after 15 May 2008, and there is a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission of further specified offences by the offender, Judge Fowler explained that the test for dangerousness under Article 13(1) of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 would be met.

In circumstances where the Court did not have the benefit of a pre-sentence report for Mr McVeigh, nor any other form of defence report, Judge Fowler said the assessment of dangerousness had to be conducted without such information that would normally appear. Judge Fowler said the absence of this information was deliberate and for tactical reasons on the part of Mr McVeigh.

Considering Mr McVeigh’s 36 previous convictions, Judge Fowler noted that they were for relatively minor offences (including resisting and assaults on police) but that his record revealed a pattern of antagonism towards police:

“It is clear from his active and enthusiastic participation in this murder attempt and his association with the other two suspects arrested with him that he is a committed Dissident Republican terrorist. He knew he was transporting and personally planted a well-designed and viable under vehicle improvised explosive device. Given the amount of high explosives and shaped nature of the copper cone, this device had one purpose only and that was to kill anyone unfortunate enough to be in the car under which it had been placed. There was considerable planning, preparation and premeditation involved in this attempted murder and the participants demonstrated significant forensic awareness by the use of plastic gloves and their eagerness to dispose of them when spotted by police. The defendant’s central role in this attack demonstrates his high level of commitment to the Dissident Republican cause and his willingness to murder to further its ends without the slightest semblance of remorse.”

Having considered all the fact-specific circumstances, Judge Fowler was satisfied that the test of dangerousness had been met.

Extended or indeterminate custodial sentence?

Judge Fowler explained that if an extended custodial sentence would not be adequate to protect the public from serious harm, the court must impose an indeterminate custodial sentence. While there was no doubt this was a very serious offence, Judge Fowler was not satisfied that it fell into the category required for an indeterminate sentence given the protection provided by an extended sentence.

Judge Fowler considered R v Pollins [2014] NICA 62 and R v McCann [1996] NIJB 225 in deciding on the appropriate sentence.

After identifying the aggravating factors, and being unable to identify any mitigating features, Judge Fowler sentenced Mr McVeigh to an extended custodial sentence of 25 years with an extension period of five years on licence for the attempted murder of two serving police officers, and a concurrent extended custodial sentence of 20 years with an extension period of five years on licence for the offence of possession of explosives with intent to endanger life.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019

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