Man gets 25 years for IRA bomb plot: Judges tells court that terrorist plan to detonate three-and-a-half-tons of explosive would have caused enormous damage. Terry Kirby reports

AN IRISH lorry driver with convictions for importuning and indecency was yesterday sentenced to 25 years in prison for his part in an IRA plot to detonate its biggest terrorist bomb in Britain.

Patrick Kelly, 41, was also convicted of the attempted murder of Constable Raymond Hall, who was shot in the back by Kelly's accomplice after the police officer stopped the IRA lorry bomb during a routine check in November last year.

The Old Bailey jury was told that the three-and-a-half-ton bomb, packed in a lorry being driven by Kelly, had more than twice the destructive power of the bombs planted at St Mary Axe and Bishopsgate in the City of London and would have caused massive destruction. Although the bomb's timers were ready to be set for detonation, anti-terrorist branch officers were unable to establish its intended target, or why it was being driven north through Stoke Newington in north-east London during the middle of the night.

Sentencing Kelly, Mr Justice Leonard said the bomb 'would have caused enormous damage and destruction to property - and more importantly would have killed or seriously hurt anyone in the area'. As a driver, Kelly was not in command, but his responsibility had been 'enormous'.

After the lorry was brought to a halt by PC Hall and a colleague, Kelly and his accomplice were chased up a side road. There, the court was told, the accomplice pointed a gun at the bridge of PC Hall's nose and fired, but the officer ducked and the bullet grazed his scalp. As he fled, he was shot in the back. The bullet missed his vital organs and he later recovered from his injuries. The accomplice has not yet been caught.

After unsuccessfully trying to hijack a car, containing a young couple and a baby, Kelly was arrested a short distance away. Analysis of fibres linked him to a red sweater found abandoned nearby - which witnesses saw him wearing - and also to the lorry cabin; a particle of firearms residue was found on his face. The gun was discovered in a nearby garden.

Detectives could not establish firm links between Kelly and the Republican movement. He came from a farming family in Ballybrittas, County Laoise, left school at 13 and later worked as a lorry and crane driver, spending much of the last 20 years in England. Said by police to be bisexual, he has convictions in London in 1973 and 1989 for importuning and gross indecency. In 1987, he was convicted in Dublin, with three other men, of kidnapping a horse dealer. He was jailed for nine years, suspended for two.

It is understood Irish police had Kelly earmarked as a Republican activist. He may have been approached to become involved in the IRA's mainland campaign after returning home following the deaths of his parents in 1991.

Defence witnesses described him as 'a typical country boy'. The defence claimed he had nothing to do with the lorry and had been in England on a trip to buy 'computers, umbrellas and kettles' for a business. He did not give evidence.

PC Hall, 37, married with two children, has been a police officer since 1988; he is a former Royal Engineer who served in the Falklands. He said yesterday: 'I joined the police to serve the public and the public, in the form of the jury, returned their support with the guilty verdict.'