In The Courts: Only a miracle saved Docklands from devastation by bombers, jury told

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Two men went on trial yesterday accused of plotting the massive Docklands bombing in London which left two people dead and ended an 18- month IRA ceasefire. Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, was in court to hear details.

It was "little short of a miracle" that an enormous lorry bomb packed with homemade explosives only killed two people - when both men were blasted through two walls - the Old Bailey heard.

The court was told details of dozens of injuries caused by flying debris, including a woman who needed 300 stitches in her face and a family of three who were sitting in a car yards from the bomb. The damage was estimated at pounds 150m.

Ulstermen Patrick McKinley, 34, from Newry, and James McCardle, 29, from Crossmaglen, are accused of conspiring to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury. Both deny the charges relating to the explosion at 6.59pm at South Quay, east London, on 9 February 1996. Mr McCardle has also denied murdering two men.

John Bevan QC, for the prosecution, said that Mr McCardle was one of the bombers and that finger, thumb and palm prints were found on a number of items that link him to the explosion. But he admitted that there was no evidence to suggest Mr McKinley, a mechanic, was involved in planting the explosive device.

He accused him of helping convert a flat-bed truck in Northern Ireland into a vehicle transporter that was later filled with tons of homemade explosive made from fertiliser and icing sugar.

Mr Bevan also outlined the impact of the bomb, which was detonated by a two-hour delay switch fitted with Semtex.

A newsagent and his assistant, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, who failed to leave the area in time, died after being blown through two walls by the lorry bomb that was parked outside their shop.

The massive explosion left a crater 32ft across and 10ft deep. Debris was found 300 yards away.

Zaoul Berrezag, his 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter, were injured as they waited in their car 40 yards from the bomb after finishing a cleaning job.

Mr Berrezag, a 55-year-old Moroccan, suffered total loss of memory and had only made a marginal recovery. His son suffered facial injuries and a perforated eardrum.

Another victim, Barbara Osei, had 300 stitches to her face and suffered penetration to her right eye. Dozens of other people were hit by flying glass and debris.

Mr Bevan said: "Inaccurate and, from the point of view of timing, wholly inadequate warnings were given by telephone to a number of people. Those warnings did not begin to give the police sufficient time to warn and evacuate the many thousands of people at work and leaving work in the area."

He said there had been a "dummy run" from Northern Ireland to Carlisle in January 1996 and the following month it was driven to South Quay filled with explosives.

The case, which is due to last about five weeks, continues today.