Northern Ireland news

Hijacked workman no longer wants to give evidence in bomb threat to Simon Coveney

Laganside Court in Belfast

A workman ordered to transport a suspected bomb to a north Belfast peace event attended by the Irish Foreign Minister no longer wants to give evidence, a court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed he has been intimidated into withdrawing the witness statement made after his van was hijacked in an act of "political terror."

The disclosure came as bail was refused to a gym owner accused of driving the masked gunmen to the scene of an attack linked to loyalist paramilitary opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Darren Service, 41, of Ballysillan Road in the city, denies charges of preparation of terrorist acts, hijacking and placing an article causing a bomb hoax.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney had been at the Houben Centre to give a speech on peace-building when the security alert forced his evacuation from the Crumlin Road venue on March 25.

Earlier that day two men approached the victim while he was parked on Sydney Street West, held a gun to his head and ordered him to take a suspected bomb loaded into the van to the Holy Cross Church, according to the prosecution.

The hijackers took the man's driving licence and threatened to shoot his family if he did not comply.

Police were alerted when he arrived at the nearby Houben Centre, with Mr Coveney and others moved out before the hoax device was made safe.

Previous courts heard the traumatised victim has since moved home.

It also emerged today that the man has now withdrawn his witness statement, stressing that he does not want to give any evidence in a decision taken of his own free will.

But alleging an interference with the administration of justice, a Crown lawyer told Belfast Magistrates' Court: "There have been comments directed to him in the street, there are vehicles driving past his house now."

There is no suggestion that Service was personally involved in any witness intimidation.

Opposing his bid to be released from custody, however, the prosecutor argued: "The incident itself involved an act of political terror as it was meant to be against a backdrop which appears to be a fringe element who seek to use violence against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"There's a clear link in the nature of this offence to paramilitary activity, and one sees the clear fear of the witness because of those paramilitary links which he expressly indicates."

Defence barrister Paul Bacon countered that his client should now be released due to developments in the case and moves at Westminster towards rewriting the Protocol.

"This man whose van was hijacked says he wants to take no more part in this. Not only that, he doesn't want his evidence to form any part in this case," Mr Bacon said.

He added: "The political landscape has changed somewhat and there's been a certain diminution in tension within the unionist community given what has happened in Parliament this week.

"We now know the Government is going to legislate against the Protocol, ameliorate or remove the Protocol, who knows what."

Service is allegedly connected to the hijacking by CCTV footage of a car in the area at the time.

Detectives believe he drove the gunmen to the scene, based on the distinctive tattoos of a man behind the wheel of the Skoda vehicle.

But Mr Bacon insisted: "At no time can the defendant be identified."

Despite those submissions, Service's application for bail was denied.

District Judge George Conner said: "Whilst I take account of what you say in relation to the withdrawal of the statement, that clearly is not the end of the matter."

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