In a ‘somewhat bizarre’ case, heard before a Diplock non-jury court, a Londonderry man originally accused of being a would-be dissident republican bomber was yesterday fined £300 for acting as an outrider in the belief he was helping a cigarette smuggler.
Gary McDaid (37), of Glenowen Park, had originally been charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion two years ago and possession of explosives with intent to endanger life.
However, in February, when a new charge was added to his indictment, he admitted that when stopped as he shadowed a van load of mortars, he was not on his way to bomb a police station, but was encouraging or assisting a man in the belief that he was a cigarette smuggler.
The man he admitted helping was his former co-accused, Seamus McLaughlin (37), of Eastway Gardens, Creggan, who was jailed for 12 years last November for having four ready to deploy improvised mortars and an improvised explosive incendiary device with intent to endanger life on March 3, 2013.
At Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan described the case as “entirely novel and somewhat bizarre” as there were never any cigarettes in the Citroen Berlingo van, nor had the court the slightest idea of what quantities were to have been involved.
Judge Marrinan said in terms of the court’s determination of sentencing, the situation had gone from “the sublime to the ridiculous”.
Sentencing McDaid the judge said the charge he faced now was a very different scenario to that faced by his former co-accused, McLaughlin.
Judge Marrinan said there were no cigarettes in the vehicle, which was “filled with more sinister materials”.
He said this was not the case opened against McDaid, and he was dealing with the accused as someone involved at a very modest level.
In the circumstances, the judge said he did not consider that the custody threshold had been crossed in his case, and given McDaid’s difficult time in jail while awaiting trial, he would impose a fine.
Earlier a prosecution lawyer said that during a dozen or more police interviews following his arrest, McDaid made no mention of his involvement in the cigarette smuggling plot.
That admission only came about when he was arraigned in court in February.
The prosecution added that there was no forensic link, or any other link between McDaid, the van, its contents, or McLaughlin.
Martin O’Rourke QC, defending said the basis of McDaid’s belief was based on his knowledge of McLaughlin as someone who would be involved in smuggling, and nothing more sinister and that he was to get a few pounds for acting as an outrider.
Mr O’Rourke said that McDaid had emphatically stated that if he had believed for one moment there were explosives, he would never have had anything to do with them.
The lawyer also pointed out that before being granted bail McDaid had spent five months in solitary confinement because of fears over his safety in prison.
He said that, given the original charges he faced, he felt under possible pressure from other inmates, and while offered a chance of being moved to the republican wing of the jail, he declined.