An electrician who was kidnapped and ordered at gunpoint to drive what he believed to be a bomb into a north Belfast church was told his family would be targeted if he didn’t follow his instructions .
The threat was detailed when Darren Service, owner of the North Belfast gym, appeared in court charged with three offenses in connection with the false bomb alarm at the John and Pat Hume Foundation’s March 25 at the Houben Center in North Belfast organized event.
Minister Simon Coveney had to be escorted out of the premises by his security personnel because of the bomb alarm.
The 40-year-old defendant, who resides in Ballysillan, faces one count of “preparing to commit acts of terrorism”, he is also charged with hijacking a Ford Transit van and another offence, “an article in the near Holy Cross Church, 432 Crumlin Road, Belfast, with the intention of giving the impression to another person that it is likely to explode or ignite and thereby cause personal injury or property damage”.
Service was arrested by anti-terrorism officials on Sunday after he volunteered for an interview, appearing in court via video link.
He was described in court as a “trusted member” of the organization that carried out the attack, namely the UVF.
Linking him to the crime, the court was told searches of Mr Service found £100,000 in a safe, along with two balaclavas and three UVF needles.
An airgun and a small amount of cannabis were also seized.
Objecting to bail Police say a phone belonging to the kidnapping victim was taken from him at the time, along with his wallet containing personal information, and have yet to be found.
The court was also told that on April 7 last year, Mr Service could be seen on footage of an anti-protocol riot watching a tension-related riot that saw a bus set on fire.
They also said the incident at the Houben Center was linked to the anti-protocol protests and ongoing escalations regarding loyalist activity and to further bomb alerts that had occurred since last Friday’s incident.
These included a bomb alert at Warrenpoint on Wednesday and one on the train from Belfast to Dublin.
Defense attorney Paul Bacon challenged police, saying his client owned a gym off Lanark Way and was never questioned in connection with last year’s riots.
He also said his client owns three gyms and has applied for over £150,000 in bounce-back loans being offered to companies because of the Covid pandemic, adding his client has been fully accountable for his actions.
A detective inspector said Mr Service could be linked to the case. He said the victim in the case was kidnapped by two masked gunmen, one of whom was wearing a red shirt.
“The suspects threatened to shoot the IP (the injured person) and harm his family if he did not comply with the order. They also took his cell phone and wallet,” the officer said.
The court was told that the driver of the van followed his instructions and was “in a distressed state” when he told police officers at the scene what had happened, they checked the van and observed what they believed to be a bomb .
The court was told that on the morning of the hijacking, a gray Skoda was spotted around Sydney Street and seen on CCTV in the area.
“This incident is linked to riots surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol and the attack occurred due to the presence of the Irish Foreign Secretary at the Houben Center at the time,” the detective said.
The official also referred to statements in the press related to loyalist paramilitaries alleging they were carrying out attacks in relation to protocol and Irish ministers, saying in this regard that the UVF pins found in the defendant’s home be “significant”.
Mr Bacon, who defended the accused, questioned the police account and said his client “made a full statement regarding the cash”.
“He has applied for three £150,000 bounce-back loans,” Mr Bacon said.
The defendant admitted driving the gray Skoda, which was a spare car used while his own car was being repaired, but denied his car was the same gray car caught on a recording by a ring doorbell .
Police refused bail on the grounds that Mr Service had the means to flee and intervene in the judiciary and risked the applicant “influencing others” in connection with the case.
He added that the defendant’s phone was not found and he refused to hand it over to the police.
He added that there was a risk to “public order”, citing press reports threatening Irish politicians and heightening tensions in North Belfast.
“On Saturday, the UVF claimed to have planted a bomb in a bar in Warrenpoint which led to a security alert… loyalist paramilitaries claimed to have planted a bomb on a train running from Belfast to Dublin… again nothing was found.
“We believe this shows a potential ongoing escalation and if this applicant were released on bail there would be a further risk.”
The refusal to bail Deputy District Judge McStay said it was an “extremely serious matter which is politically motivated”.
“I think there is a risk in that regard, and it’s not a risk of minor intrusions, it’s a risk of very serious crimes.
“Regarding the escape, it is stated that he has access to money, jewelry and property and I must say that despite the statement that he owns three companies and has taken out loans, the money is retained in cash, 20- Pound notes were rolled up at his house, so there are significant suspicions about this money.”
Judge McStay added that there were real concerns about the interference, saying there was a “clear risk regarding these witnesses”.
“I am not satisfied that I can safely release this man on bail at this time and accordingly deny this request.”
The accused was remanded in custody to appear again in four weeks.
https://www.independent.ie/news/north-belfast-gym-owner-appears-in-court-charged-in-connection-with-alert-at-peace-event-attended-by-minister-simon-coveney-41508019.html The owner of a North Belfast gym appears in court charged in connection with an alert at a peace event attended by Minister Simon Coveney