By David Young, PA
A man who police allege went on the run after a bomb attack in Northern Ireland more than 30 years ago has appeared in court charged with causing the explosion.
Eamonn Christopher O’Boyle, 53, faces two charges in connection with the blast that badly damaged a garage in Randalstown, Co Antrim, in November 1990.
The builder and property developer, who lives in Derrybeg, Gweedore, Co Donegal, was arrested when he arrived on a flight at Belfast International Airport earlier in the week.
O’Boyle was charged by detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Legacy Investigation Branch with causing the explosion at French’s garage in New Street, Randalstown, at around 10.45pm on November 25th, 1990, and possessing explosives with intent to endanger life.
He appeared on Saturday morning before District Judge Nigel Broderick by videolink from a police custody suite in Belfast.
O’Boyle spoke briefly at the remand hearing at Antrim Magistrates’ Court, sitting in Ballymena, to confirm he understood the charges against him.
A PSNI detective chief inspector told the court he could connect O’Boyle to the counts.
The officer said security forces stopped the accused at a checkpoint “driving at speed” away from the location of the bomb around 40 minutes before the explosion.
The court heard the passenger in the car was arrested the following day and went on to plead guilty to involvement in the bombing. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The detective told the judge the two men were later observed by Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers at the back of a hotel in nearby Toomebridge 15 minutes after the bomb blast.
He said O’Boyle was seen exchanging clothes with another man.
The officer said when police visited O’Boyle’s home the following day he appeared to have fled.
“Efforts were made to locate Mr O’Boyle at his home address on 26 November,” he told the court.
“He was not present and is believed to have gone on the run from that address at that time.”
The detective said the accused’s Volkswagen was seized on November 26th and forensic tests identified traces of explosives on the front passenger seat and on a polythene sheet in the footwell on the front passenger side.
He said O’Boyle was interviewed under caution by An Garda Síochána in the Republic in January 1994 but made no comment to questions put to him.
A prosecution lawyer told the court there was “sufficient circumstantial evidence” to support a prima facie case against O’Boyle
“It’s a circumstantial case made up of several strands of which the forensic evidence is one,” he said.
The accused’s solicitor Peter Corrigan, from Belfast-based solicitors’ firm Phoenix Law, challenged the connection with the case, claiming there were several “deficiencies” with the evidence.
He said there was an equal chance that “contamination” had resulted in traces of explosives being detected during the forensic examination of the car.
The solicitor also questioned how the forensic evidence had been stored in the years since it was taken.
“There’s been no care taken in relation to the integrity of the exhibit,” he said.
Mr Corrigan said the quantity of explosive traces found in the car was not known.
“We do not know how many particles there were, and equally we don’t know how those particles were deposited,” he said.
The lawyer also said there was no evidence linking the explosive traces to the bomb itself.
He insisted the case should be discontinued.
Judge Broderick noted that prosecutors did not have to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt at this stage of the court proceedings, and only had to establish prima facie evidence to connect the accused to the charges.
He said he was satisfied that sufficient evidence had been presented to connect O’Boyle to the counts.
He granted bail on terms agreed by the defence and prosecution.
O’Boyle was required to provide his own bail of £950 and a further cash surety of £5,000.
He was ordered to surrender all travel documents and must reside at his address in Gweedore while on bail. The judge told him he also has to sign on at Gweedore Garda station twice a week.
The case was listed again for January 24th. O’Boyle was excused from attending that hearing.