Man denies IRA bombings at oil terminal

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FIBRES and footprints linked a 26-year-old man with a series of IRA bomb attacks on an oil terminal and a gasholder last year, an Old Bailey jury was told yesterday.

The evidence linking Sean McNulty with the explosions was not an 'unhappy coincidence' but proof of his involvement, Nigel Sweeney, for the prosecution, said.

Mr McNulty, of North Shields, Tyne and Wear, denies conspiracy to cause explosions between January and June last year.

Mr Sweeney said the first explosion took place at the Esso oil terminal in North Shields in April, when a device containing 1-2kg of Semtex - 'the explosive favoured by the IRA' - blew a hole in an oil tank containing oil slops.

'Fortunately those slops did not ignite as the bombers had intended and a conflagration was avoided,' he said.

In June, another bomb went off at the British Gas depot at Redheugh, Tyneside, blowing a hole in a holder containing 1.4m cu ft of methane, setting it on fire.

British Gas staff and the fire brigade were able to control the situation and the fire burned itself out without causing an explosion.

Less than 24 hours later two more devices went off within minutes of each other at the Esso terminal in North Shields. The bombs, each containing more than 1kg of Semtex, ruptured pipelines and an oil tank - but fortunately all were empty.

A bomb component recovered from each site showed the devices were the work of the IRA, Mr Sweeney said.

Experts found fibres - which matched a tracksuit top, a T-shirt and a pair of trousers later recovered from Mr McNulty's home - on a length of tape which held together part of the device used in the first explosion.

Mr McNulty was also filmed putting fuel in his car by a video camera at a petrol station less than half a mile from the gasworks and within 15 minutes of when the timing device was set, the court was told.

Police found traces of Semtex in Mr McNulty's car when they examined it when he went to Ireland after the fourth explosion.

Traces of Semtex were also found at a house in Tyneside that he was known to visit.

When Mr McNulty was arrested on his return from Ireland, the right foot of the boots he was wearing matched imprints found by a hole in the perimeter fence of the Esso terminal used by the bombers to gain access to the site. Fibres on the wire matched trousers he owned.

Newspaper cuttings about the IRA and about the gas depot explosion were found in his bedroom.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.