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Bomb threat accused says his phone's ID number was "cloned", Special Criminal Court hears

Threats made during the state visit of the UK's Queen
Threats made during the state visit of the UK's Queen

A Longford man accused of making bomb threats on the eve of and during the state visit of the UK Queen five years ago has said that his phone's identification number was "cloned" and that it was a coincidence he found the SIM card the prosecution allege was used to make the phonecalls.

Donal Billings (66) of St Bridget’s Court, Drumlish, County Longford is charged with the unlawful possession of an explosive substance at Longford railway station car park on May 16th, 2011.

He is further charged with four offences under the Criminal Law Act of 1976 of knowingly making false reports tending to show that an offence had been committed.

The charges allege that he made a false report within the State on May 16th, 2011, that bombs had been placed at Busáras in Dublin and at Sinn Féin's headquarters.

He is also charged with making a false report on May 18th that two mortars were set for Dublin Castle, and with making a false report on May 20th that two bombs had been placed in the toilets at Cork airport.

Mr Billings denies the five charges.

It is the prosecution's case that on the eve of the royal visit he placed an IED on a Dublin-bound passenger bus outside Longford train station.

The prosecution also allege that Mr Billings called Longford garda station on three separate occasions, threatening bombs on buses, the Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin and Cork airport, as well as two mortars at Dublin Castle while the Queen was banqueting there. 

Today/Yesterday, under cross-examination, Mr Billings told prosecuting counsel Garnett Orange SC that while he accepted the evidence heard during the trial, he was not the one who put the bomb on the bus or made the phonecalls.

Previously, the court has heard evidence about an IMEI, a 15 digit unique number which is used to identify mobile devices, and an 086 number associated with a SIM card found in Mr Billings car.

The prosecution claim that the 086 number was used in conjunction with the IMEI number of a white Motorola mobile phone seized from Mr Billings when he was arrested, and that this number was used to phone the bomb threats to Longford garda station.

Mr Billings told Mr Orange that his phone's IMEI number had been cloned or copied. 

When asked who might have copied his IMEI he said he did not know. 

"But it's doable, there is software on the Internet," he said.

Mr Billings added that he did not make the call on May 20th, which threatened two bombs in the toilets of Cork airport the day the Queen was to fly out. 

At the time of the call, he was under observation by a member of the Crime and Security Unit, he said. 

"He was keeping a sharp eye on me. I didn't make a call, I wasn't able to make a call," he stated.

Mr Billings said that he found the SIM card on the ground of the LIDL carpark where he was arrested. 

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, said to the defendant, "If you didn't use that SIM card, if somebody else used the card in conjunction with your phone, there's a coincidence with you finding that SIM card, isn't that correct?"

"Certainly," Mr Billings said. 

The court then heard closing speeches from the prosecution and defence. 

Mr Orange said that there is no forensic or direct evidence but an "abundance of circumstantial evidence, such that the only possible explanation arising from a consideration of the circumstantial evidence is that the accused man committed all of the offences."

He said that the prosecution have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the 086 number on the SIM card was being used in conjunction with the white Motorola mobile phone. 

"Clearly the person who phoned Longford garda station had unimpeachable information that a bomb had been placed on a Corduff travel bus to Dublin. Any other interpretation would require the occurrence of the type of coincidence that only happens in fairytales," Mr Orange said. 

The court should have regard to the writing on the package of the SIM card, he said, adding that written on the package was Longford garda station's phone number, as well as the registration number for the bus on which the bomb was found.

Asking the judges to regard the Mr Billings' demeanour while giving evidence, the barrister said that he was "as evasive a witness as has ever appeared before a court in this jurisdiction".

His evidence was "utterly incredible" and "completely implausible", Mr Orange said.

"There is simply no explanation offered that could be described as credible or plausible for so many coincidences of the type he has indicated exist in this case," the barrister added.

Concluding, he said, "I would submit that the cumulative effect of the evidence can only be to prove the guilt of the accused man." 

Ronan Munro SC, for Mr Billings, said that the charges of hoax bomb threats against his client depend entirely on the "rogue SIM" or 086 number. 

"There is no direct evidence from the gardai that listened to the calls that it was the rogue SIM used to make the phone calls," he said. 

Mr Munro submitted to the court that the prosecution's evidence regarding the phonecalls was "contradictory". 

Referring to Garda Keith Maher's evidence, Mr Munro stated that the guard said the number was private number, while in her evidence, Garda Ann Clarke said that Ringmaster, a call logging system she used to check incoming calls to Longford garda station, cannot identify private numbers. 

The lawyer also said that one guard's evidence was that the caller had a northern Irish accent while another guard's was that the caller had a Dublin accent. 

Continuing the defence's closing speech, Máirtín O'Gibealláin SC said that the the explosives substances aspect of the case against Mr Billings was "unclear". 

Mr Billings cannot be convicted on the charge without an "act of imagination", the barrister said.

Mr O'Gibealláin said that the bus was open at other stations along the route from Ballina to Dublin.

The basic question that has to be addressed, he said, was "Is there any evidence that ties Donal Billings to the equipment on the bus?" 

He said there was no direct evidence and that the indirect evidence is "not of the required standard to give a guilty verdict". 

Mr Justice Hunt, with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge Cormac Dunne, will deliver a verdict on the case next Wednesday, October 26th.

Mr Billings was remanded on continuing bail until that date.