Bomb threats phoned in to Gardai on eve of Queen's visit, court hears

Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Dublin in 2011
Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Dublin in 2011

A phonecall to Longford garda station on the eve of the state visit of Queen of Britain Elizabeth II five years ago threatened there were bombs on buses and in Sinn Fein's headquarters, the Special Criminal Court has heard.

Donal Billings (65) of St Bridget’s Court, Drumlish, County Longford is charged before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin with the unlawful possession of an explosive substance at Longford railway station car park on May 16th, 2011.

Mr Billings 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.

Today, Mr Billings pleaded not guilty to each of the five charges. 

Before the trial opened, prosecution barrister Garnett Orange SC told the court that Mr Billings had invoked his right to be tried in Irish and that it was therefore necessary to have interpreters for the accused man and the prosecution.

Giving evidence, Garda Peter O'Donnell told the court that on May 16th, 2011, he was on duty at Longford garda station. 

At 8:16pm the station received a phonecall from a male caller, the court heard. 

Garda O'Donnell said that he was told to "listen carefully" and that there was a bomb on a Corduff travel Ballina to Dublin bus, a second bomb on a bus in Busaras in Dublin and a third bomb at Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin. 

The garda said that he did not recognise the voice. 

Earlier, opening the prosecution case, Mr Orange told the court that in mid-May, 2011, the Queen of Britain, Elizabeth II, was visiting Ireland for a number of days.

Before and during her visit, the barrister said, a number of bomb threats were made to gardai at Longford garda station.  

Mr Orange said the court will hear that arising from these bomb threats an investigation was commenced and a Corduff travel bus was identified and stopped in Maynooth, County Kildare, before local gardai evacuated the passengers and conducted a search. 

There will be evidence that while searching the baggage area a garda found a suspect device, Mr Orange said, adding that a member of the Garda Ballistics Section will give his opinion that the device contained an explosive substance. 

It was effectively a bomb using a firework as a detonator and a quantity of flammable liquid attached to it, Mr Orange said.

The places mentioned in the other threats were also searched and nothing of significance was found, he added.  

The court will also hear evidence, the lawyer said, that on May 18th Queen Elizabeth was due to attend a State function at Dublin Castle and that Longford garda station received a specific threat that two mortars were set to target the castle. 

There will be evidence that gardai searched the area around the castle but found nothing of significance, Mr Orange added. 

The court will also hear evidence that a final phonecall to Longford garda station, allegedly made on May 20th of that year, threatened there were two bombs left in the toilet area of Cork airport and that Queen Elizabeth was due to fly from the airport around that time. 

The airport was searched but nothing was found, Mr Orange said.  

Evidence related to the phone number used to call Longford garda station will also form part of the prosecution case. 

The court will be told that gardai were able to determine the SIM card for this particular phone number had been bought in an O2 shop in Longford Shopping Centre on May 16th. 

Mr Orange said that Detective Sergeant Padraig Jones will tell the court that he viewed the CCTV footage from the O2 shop and the shopping centre and identified the man who bought the SIM card in question and tracked him as he walked through the shopping centre on the CCTV footage.

Evidence that on May 20th Mr Billings became a person of interest to gardai, arising from information available to them, will be presented to the court, Mr Orange said, adding that after the accused man's arrest his car was searched and a package for an O2 SIM card was found.

Mr Orange told the court that various numbers will be relevant to the case, including Longford garda station's number, the phone number that made the calls and also the IMEI number - a unique number used to identify mobile devices - attached to a Motorola mobile phone.

This is relevant, Mr Orange said, because when the accused was arrested and his car was searched gardai found a Motorola mobile phone with that IMEI number. 

The trial is expected to last four weeks and continues in front of Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, with Judge Martin Nolan and Judge Cormac Dunne.  

By Daniel Hickey