An explosive device, encased in a concrete block, ‘had to be manufactured somewhere’, says a top PSNI officer as she pleaded for information.
The device, which led to homes being evacuated in Craigavon on Saturday morning, was ‘designed to kill’ said PSNI District Commander, Superintendent Wendy Middleton.
In an exclusive interview with the Lurgan Mail, Superintendent Middleton described the events of Friday night and the threat it posed to her officers in the Tullygally and wider Craigavon area.
Vowing to maintain community policing in the area, she said the potential effect could have killed, not just her officers but anyone in the local community.
Superintendent Middleton said: “On Friday night Saturday morning we responded to two calls. One was in relation to a report of a loud bang in the Tullygally Road area of Craigavon. About 15 minutes later there was another report from a Belfast-based newspaper that they had received a report that a device had been fired at a police patrol but it missed its target. We responded and discovered a suspicious object at a bus shelter close to Aldervale flats.
“We put up cordons, which caused a bit of disruption to local residents, on the advice of Army Technical Officers. They advised us that the flats had to be evacuated.
“There were a number of people who were reluctant to leave but we engaged with them and persuaded people to go to alternative accommodation. Quite a few had family members that they could go to in the area. Also the Parochial House was opened up and people were able to go there,” said Supt Middleton.
“I want to stress my thanks to everyone who did engage with us and support us in very difficult circumstances and also for the very public outpouring of support we have had since then from both members of the community and elected representatives. It meant a lot to me at the time and to my officers.
“Our colleagues in ATO made the device safe. It was a viable device. It was a dangerous device that had been left at the bus shelter.
“It was a mortar-type device which had not been fired at a passing police patrol. We were able to clarify that very quickly. It was attached to a concrete block and that concrete block had been manufactured - and within that concrete block was a device containing explosives. This was designed to kill.
“Our working hypothesis and that of the investigations team was that the initial bang was to draw us into the area and then with the secondary device and anybody who would be handling the suspicious object - it was designed to kill.
“We have already got feedback in relation to that. The ATO, when they made the device safe, they were able to report to me that it was viable and it was designed to kill.
“We believe the device was an attempt by dissident republican terrorists to murder police officers. I condemn this strongly.”
She said there have been no arrests as yet and the investigations is at an early stage.
“No group has claimed responsibility and the investigation team have an open mind as to which grouping it might be.
“My assessment is the threat that we are facing is coming from within local communities and I want to offer reassurances as well that this will not deter us in any shape or form.
“As the local commander my responsibility is for making sure we deliver high quality and effective policing service. I can assure the local communities of this district, that is what our focus will be.
“This won’t put us off and we will continue to build on the strong relationships that we already have in the local community.
“This was a completely reckless attack. This was a busy residential area. This is a busy road and right beside a bus stop and a block of flats. When the ATO advised me that the flats needed to be evacuated that gives you some insight into the size and the damage that could have been caused.
“I would like to appeal for information. This really saddens me what has happened on Friday night. We are no different from any other emergency service. We are just trying to provide a service to the local community and be there when the community need us most.
“What I do know is the explosives need to have been sourced somewhere. The bomb had to be constructed. You will see from the photographs, this was a sophisticated construction. It wasn’t crude. It had to be transported. It had to be put in place where it would have maximum impact and then the people that did it had to leave the area.
“My appeal is for anybody who, in the weeks and days leading up to Friday night, saw anything suspicious in terms of vehicles or people.
“I can assure any of your readers that I am not interested in who they are. All I am interested in is what they know.
“We have a report as well from a witness that saw a young male running away onto rough ground from the bus shelter area. That was about quarter to twelve on Friday night which would have been in and around the time that is relevant to us and went onto the black paths.
“He is described as being 5’6” to 5’9”, slight to medium build and on that basis the witness felt they were young, in their late teens to early 20s, wearing a light grey or beige long sleeve hooded top with the hood up and face covered. We are particularly interested in speaking to that person.”
When asked what direction the witness saw the male running, Superintendent Middleton said they did not know but it would be helpful to find out in which direction he ran.
Asked if she was concerned about an escalation of dissident activity, she said: “Obviously it is of concern that we have had a viable bomb left in a public road in Craigavon which I believe was intended for my officers. So that is of concern to me and that is increasing activity, obvious increasing activity. But the reality is the threat to serving officers in Northern Ireland is severe and has been for the last ten years, and certainly within this area, I have seen a consistent threat rather than anything that would have happened in peaks and troughs. We are aware of it. It is something that is a priority to the PSNI - is the threat of violent extremism and therefore it is something we take into account and consideration in our policing response.”
When asked if this would mean even more caution in a police emergency response, she said: “No I don’t think so. This is what we are used to unfortunately. It is very sad that I have to say that but it is what our policing environment looks like here in Northern Ireland.
“I think, even in terms of our response on Saturday morning in the early hours, it shows how alive we are to the possibilities with such devices. While it saddens me, it doesn’t surprise me.”