A Co Tyrone man accused of being one of two men who launched a bomb attack on an RUC station in Coalisland over two decades ago appeared in court today.
As the Crown opened its case against Paul Campbell, the non-jury Diplock trial heard the defendant’s blood was located in the back seat of a local priest’s car following the attack in March 1997.
Campbell was arrested in October 2015 at Portadown train station, and has since denied involvement in the bomb attack.
He appeared at Belfast Crown Court today, where a prosecuting barrister said it was the Crown’s intention to “clearly establish” Campbell was one of the bombers who was shot by a soldier in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the police station, and who fled the scene after jumping into the back seat of a priest’s car.
The 41-year old, from The Mills in Coalisland, has been charged with causing an explosion likely to endanger life, and possessing an improvised explosive device with intent to endanger life, on March 26, 1997. He has denied both offences.
The prosecutor said that on the evening in question, a number of soldiers dressed in plain clothes were undertaking a surveillance operation in the Coalisland area regarding suspected terrorist activity.
One of the soldiers - known as Soldier A - was in a car park near the Heritage Centre when he noticed two men coming down an alleyway which led to the town’s RUC station with what appeared to be an object in their hands.
The soldier claimed the pair “appeared to be carrying the object carefully” and were running down the road looking like they were “trying not to spill a pint of beer.”
Seconds later a grenade was thrown at the perimeter wall at the rear of the police station, and Soldier A said he saw the same two men sprinting out of the alleyway.
He said he issued a warning for the two men to stop and was “absolutely content” they had caused the explosion. The soldier said he shouted “Army, Army, Army”, then raised his gun - and after seeing the men rummaging around their waistbands, he felt his life was in danger and opened fire.
One man was shot in the chest and fell at the scene, whilst the other ran towards a white Toyota Corolla parked at Limeside Quay. Soldier A said he opened fire on this man, and also at the car as it was driven from the scene.
As the wounded man lay injured in the street, members of the public began to arrive, with the crowd quickly becoming what the Crown described as “unruly and boisterous.” Soldier A and other colleagues began fearing for their safety, shots were fired into the air and they removed the injured man before leaving the scene.
Turning back to Campbell, the prosecutor said it was the Crown’s case that after being shot as he fled, Campbell got into the back of the priest’s car. In a series of statements he later gave to police, the priest said he had been parked on Limeside Quay at around 9.35pm on the evening in question when he heard loud bangs.
He said his rear passenger door then opened, an unknown male got into the back seat and shouted “drive” before travelling close to the football pitches where he told the priest “let me out here.”
When the priest’s car was forensically examined, bloodstains were located on the back seat. And when this blood was tested, it contained Campbell’s DNA.
Diplock trial judge, the Belfast Recorder David McFarland, was told that three days after the explosion, a man claiming to be John Murphy attended Louth County Hospital.
He claimed he sustained an injury to his pelvis in an motorbike crash, but medics later concluded the injury was a gun-shot wound. He was discharged in April 1997, and was arrested on October 25, 2015 at Portadown train station.
When arrested on explosives offences, Campbell made no reply. Saying it was the prosecution’s case that Campbell was one of the two men who attacked the police station, that he was shot as he fled and that he attended hospital with a gunshot administered by Soldier A, the prosecutor said Campbell “remained in the Republic for a number of years following the bombing.”
He also revealed that the man shot at the scene was later convicted of explosives offences.