A traumatized worker ordered a suspected bomb to be transported to a peace event in north Belfast attended by the Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney was forced to move home, the High Court in Belfast heard today.
CTV footage was also shown of the alleged moment when two masked kidnappers got into his van and threatened to shoot him and his family if the prank device was not taken to a nearby church.
Details emerged as bail was denied to a 40-year-old gym owner accused of driving the gunmen to the scene of a politically motivated attack linked to escalating loyalist paramilitary opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol became.
Darren Service, of Ballysillan Road, Belfast, denies allegations of preparing terrorist attacks, hijacking and planting an article that caused a bomb hoax about the March 25 incident which resulted in Mr Coveney being evacuated from the Crumlin Road venue .
Mr. Coveney was visiting the Houben Center to deliver a peacebuilding speech when the security alert began.
In court today, a lawyer told prosecutors how two men approached the victim while she was parked outside a house on Sydney Street West that morning.
“One of the gunmen put a gun to his head and the other said, ‘Listen, or you’ll be shot,'” the attorney said.
The van was taken to Upper Charleville Street where a suspected bomb was planted in the back and the victim was ordered to drive it to Holy Cross Church.
“The gunmen took away his driver’s license and threatened to shoot his family if he didn’t comply,” the prosecutor continued.
With warnings that a car would follow to ensure compliance, he drove to the Houben Center and alerted police.
Mr Coveney and others left the area before bomb disposal experts recovered the prank device.
“The victim had to be hospitalized for shock,” the lawyer announced.
During the hearing, surveillance camera footage from the scene of the kidnapping was played.
It showed a gray Skoda Superb doing “a reconnaissance lap” of the area before stopping on an adjacent road, the court heard.
Two masked men were seen getting out of the car, walking over and getting into the work van.
Detectives believe they were driven to the area by Mr Service based on the distinctive tattoos of a man behind the wheel of a Skoda car in the footage.
During interviews, he accepted driving a backup car in the area that morning but insisted the kidnappers must have used a different vehicle.
He claimed he was there to get money from someone for a Rangers football game, the court heard.
Mr Service also told police he had been driving around looking for someone else who would give him £20 for grass clippings.
Searches at his home found two balaclavas, three lapel pins with UVF logos, an airgun and a quantity of suspected Class B drugs.
A safe also contained up to £100,000 in cash and two designer watches worth more than £30,000.
The defendant, who owns three gyms, claims the money was part of business bounce-back loans.
Against his request for bail, Crown Counsel argued: “This incident is believed to be an escalation by loyalist paramilitaries against the Northern Ireland Protocol and the so-called Irish Sea border.
“This is a politically motivated crime aimed at disrupting a peace-building, multi-denominational event in which the Irish Foreign Secretary was involved and the applicant is believed to have been actively involved.”
Police suspect bomb alerts at Warrenpoint and on the Belfast-Dublin train days after the hijacking were also linked to the anti-protocol protests.
Mr Justice Huddleston has been told that the two gunmen have not yet been identified, leading to fears that Mr Service’s release could hamper an investigation at a crucial early stage.
Concerns have also been raised about an ongoing risk to the victim of the kidnapping.
“He lost his house as a result of this incident,” the prosecutor said.
“The gunmen confiscated his driver’s license so they would know where he lived and specifically threatened his family.
“He has been removed from his property and efforts are being made to give him a new home.
“If Mr. Service were released from prison, there is a risk that this victim would face increased reprisals for his cooperation.”
Defense Counsel Michael Borrelli QC disputed the strength of the evidence against his client, arguing that there were no passengers in the car he was driving on the day of the hijacking.
He also stressed that Mr Service had not been charged with any paramilitary offenses and described the UVF lapel badges found at his home as “curiosities”.
“He is no different from the many thousands of people who can easily buy these items from shops across Northern Ireland,” added Mr Borrelli.
But the refusal to bail Mr Justice Huddleston cited the potential risk of further offences.
The judge also stated: “The investigation itself is at a very early stage. I recognize that there is a risk of prejudice to the administration of justice and witnesses.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/courts/traumatised-van-driver-ordered-to-bring-bomb-to-peace-event-attended-by-simon-coveney-has-been-forced-to-leave-his-home-belfast-court-hears-41527221.html A traumatized van driver who was ordered to take a bomb to the peace rally attended by Simon Coveney has been forced from his home, the Belfast court heard