Sunday, 1 April 2012

Hoaxes and Bombs

This is the second of a series of articles about the trial Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead The first can be found Here
Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead

During the trial in Glasgow of Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead much of the debate in court revolved around  the precise nature of the devices they sent to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and others. Defence advocates Gordon Jackson and Donald Findlay claimed they were "hoax" devices, designed to frighten and intimidate but not to explode. The Crown agreed that the devices could not have exploded but contended the accused believed they could have, and were therefore guilty of an attempt to assault. The jury found this proved and found both men guilty. 

Now that the trial is over we can report some of what was revealed in court about the devices. 

The first package

The first package was collected by a postal worker from Saltcoats on 4 March 2011. The address is badly scrawled, probably due to  someone using their "wrong" hand to disguise their writing.  There were also  nails  sticking out of the package.  The postal worker took the envelope to the sorting office where police were called. After an examination the a police officer used a pair of scissors to open the bag.

First package contents

Inside  were 248 nails, a wire and a lump of a "putty like substance.  This was clearly a hoax device as it had no detonator and no explosive. Police treated it as such and removed it for investigation.

The second device was spotted by on 26 March by a postal worker in Kirkintilloch post office. It had a typewritten label and was addressed to Neil Lennon at Celtic's Lennoxtown training ground. The worker observed that this also had nails protruding from it and brought it to the attention of the depot manager. She moved the package to a piece of waste ground near the sorting office and called the police. They arrived and, after examining it, opened the envelope. 

The Lennoxtown package

This package contained nails and a digital timer connected by wires to a plastic travel bottle containing around 100ml of liquid. Police again concluded that this was not a "viable" explosive device as it lacked any sort of power source, so they took it back to their divisional office for examination.

On  28th March 2011 two more devices were discovered, one was delivered to the constituency office of Trish Goodman MSP where it was opened by a researcher but did not explode. The second was due to be delivered to the Glasgow offices of Caird√® na H'Eireann on 29 March but as the postal staff could not access the building it was sent to the National Returns Mail Centre in Belfast where it was opened.  In both cases the devices were similar to the Lennoxtown package containing nails, a timing device and a small quantity of liquid. Again police decided these were not "viable" devices but events the same day in Greenock were to challenge this Police perception.

Trevor Muirhead purchasing bomb components

On that Monday Chief Petty Officer Lee Yates, a Royal Navy bomb disposal expert, arrived at Greenock police station to examine the Lennoxtown package. Yates field tested the liquid from the device and obtained a  positive result  for some of the components of Triacetone Triperoxide, a powerful explosive. In testimony CPO Yates stated that in his opinion the presence of explosives made it not a "hoax" but a package with "all the components of an improvised explosive device." 

It was this, along with other information that led to Strathclyde police to issue a public warning for prominent people associated with Celtic Football Club to be on their guard for 'viable incendiary devices' .  When the Northern Irish police were informed of the test results they employed a Belfast based based army bomb disposal team retreive the bottle of liquid  from the Cairde na hEireann package, place it behind blast walls and destroy it with burning diesel fuel.

During the case the defence argued their clients innocence of the basis that the packages they had sent out were not explosive devices. Donald Findlay QC, for Neil McKenzie, argued that you could no more make these explode that you could "swim the English Channel by standing in Dover and staring at France." The Crown's case was that if these were merely hoax bombs why had the men  taken the time and trouble to manufacture an explosive chemical and place it inside? It was this argument, that the men had meant the packages to explode but lacked the skill to achieve this, that the jury found proven.

The Police have never located where Mckenzie and Muirhead assembled the potentially explosive packages nor did they retrieve any useful forensic material from them. However they are sure that as time went on and the bombers became more sophisticated they could have killed. 

James Doleman

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