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Man jailed over 1997 Coalisland police station bombing

41 year-old Paul Campbell was found guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life Credit: Alan Irwin/Photopress

A Tyrone man has been jailed for seven and a half years over a bomb attack on an RUC station more than two decades ago.

41 year-old Paul Campbell, of The Mills in Coalisland, was found guilty of causing an explosion likely to endanger life, and possessing an improvised explosive device with intent to endanger life, on 26 March 1997.

Campbell, who was 18 at the time of the attack, had denied both offences at his non-jury Diplock style which was heard by Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland.

It was the prosecution case that Campbell was one of two men who launched the attack, that he was shot by "undercover military operative Soldier A" as he fled from the scene, and that he jumped into a priest's car that was parked nearby and fled the jurisdiction to the Republic.

A co-accused, Gareth Doris, who was also shot in the aftermath of the bomb attack and arrested at the scene, was later convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.

A senior prosecution lawyer said blood and DNA samples recovered after the bomb attack on Coalisland RUC station matched that of Campbell who was shot at the scene by an undercover soldier.

During oral submissions at a sentencing hearing at Belfast Crown Court, the senior prosecutor said that the fact that the defendant might be considered for early release under the Belfast Agreement "was not a matter for this court but for the Parole Commissioners".

He said Campbell should receive a higher sentence than Doris received as he Doris was "caught red handed" at the scene.

The prosecutor said the aggravating factors were that the charges were terrorist related and the fact that Campbell fled the jurisdiction and wasn't actually arrested and charged until 2015 when was detained by the PSNI after getting off a train in Portadown.

Paul Campbell appeared at Belfast Crown Court Credit: Alan Irwin/Photopress

A further aggravating factor was that the intended victims of the bomb attack were police officers inside the heavily fortified RUC base.

He added: "There is little by way of mitigation as this was terrorist related. "But defence counsel Orlando Pownall QC branded as "laughable and risable" the prosecution submission that there was "little by way of mitigation".

He told the court: "This incident took place 23 years ago. We are not inviting the court Mr Campbell any favours. I am not on his behalf on bended knee seeking charity.

"What we do seek is an acknowledgement of the fact that he was convicted of events which took place in March 1997 when he was 18 years of age and he is now a grown man with four young children and a wife.

"We submit that the passage of time of 23 years must afford him significant mitigation.

"Mr Pownall urged the court to take into account the "significant delay" in bringing the case to court. The defence QC said that the approach of sentencing in such cases by the courts was "to identify the need for punishment, retribution and deterrence" but he added that retribution and deterrence in this case after 23 years had a "hollow ring" as since 1997 "Mr Campbell has not committed any significant offence".

Mr Pownall further submitted that it was "ridiculous and unjust " for the prosecution to assert that Campbell should receive a higher sentence than Doris.

Passing sentence, Judge McFarland said it was likely that Doris "was in possession of the device which contained between half and three quarters of a kilo of military grade explosives and you (Campbell) provided support for him.

"The Belfast Recorder said while Doris was shot and detained at the scene, Campbell was also shot but left the jurisdiction to the Republic of Ireland and was treated for his injuries.

Judge McFarland added: "I consider the aggravating feature is that this was a terrorist incident.

"In mitigation, the judge said he was taken into account Campbell's age at the time "and your naivety to get involved in this terrorist incident", his lack of criminal record at the time of the bombing, and he had since "established a family life and the impact that will have on your two sons and your two daughters and also your wife".

Taking his starting point for sentence as ten years, Judge McFarland said he was reducing that by two and a half years because of the delay in the case and also "the impact this sentence will have on your children".

The Belfast Recorder also made Campbell the subject of counter terrorist provisions for the next 15 years.