PC 'shot three times by IRA gang': Jury told how nurse helped save Warrington officer's life. Ian MacKinnon reports

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The Independent Online
A POLICE OFFICER was shot three times at point-blank range as he confronted an IRA gang that had planted bombs at a Warrington gas depot, a court at the Old Bailey was told yesterday.

By chance, a nurse was in a restaurant near by and she staunched the flow of blood, helping to save Constable Mark Toker's life, the court was told.

PC Toker was shot as the three- man gang was making its getaway after planting explosives at the Longford Holder depot, set amid residential streets less than a mile from Warrington town centre.

Not all the explosives went off but one blast that ignited gas in a low-pressure holder rocked the Cheshire town and lit up the sky with an enormous fireball in February last year. The prosecution said it could have ignited millions of cubic feet of gas in surrounding tanks, resulting in a major disaster.

As the gang made its getaway they were stopped by PC Toker. After shooting him, the men abandoned their van and hijacked a passing motorist at gunpoint.

Lee Wright was imprisoned in the boot of his car as the gang drove through the outskirts of Manchester. The gunman fired at pursuing police cars, hitting a Ford Cosworth driven by Constable Andrew MacKay, three times, John Nutting, for the prosecution, told the jury.

As the getaway car sped along the M62, Mr Wright heard the sound of a police siren and groped about in the darkness of the boot to try to immobilise his own car. He pulled a wire, not knowing what it was. It turned out to be the petrol gauge indicator which immediately registered zero. Soon afterwards, Mr Nutting said, the gang pulled up on the M62, probably believing they were out of petrol.

The three men fled up an embankment where a police dog cornered Pairic MacFhloinn, alleged to be the gunman.

Denis Kinsella was also captured near by, but a third man, who had given his name earlier to PC Toker as Michael Timmins, escaped in the darkness and has not been caught, Mr Nutting said.

Yesterday, Pairic MacFhloinn, 40, from Dublin, and Denis Kinsella, 27, from Nottingham, denied causing explosions, attempting to murder two policemen, or cause grievous bodily harm to one officer, kidnapping, and possession of a firearm. John Kinsella, 49, Denis Kinsella's uncle, also from Nottingham, pleaded not guilty to possession of Semtex explosives.

Mr Nutting said that Mr MacFhloinn and 'Mr Timmins' met up at Denis Kinsella's flat in Nottingham two days before the explosions.

All the equipment necessary for the bombing - including Semtex, a gun and balaclavas - was assembled at the flat on Thursday 25 February, Mr Nutting said. Shortly afterwards, John Kinsella came to the flat and took away 'items of terrorism' which the gang had decided should be stored at an allotment.

That evening Denis Kinsella drove Mr MacFhloinn and 'Mr Timmins' to Warrington where they cut their way through two fences to get into the 28-acre gas holder complex.

Inside, they planted three bombs and accompanying incendiary devices designed to ignite the tanks ruptured by the initial explosions, timed to go off four or five hours after their getaway.

'One explosion caused an enormous fireball,' Mr Nutting said. 'Millions of cubic feet of gas blew up. The huge steel roof was buckled and blown about like cardboard. The second explosion failed to puncture the skin of the container. The third also failed.

'But if the devices had exploded as planned the resultant explosion would have caused injury or death to anyone in the area. If the blast had triggered the 5 million cubic feet stored in the high pressure tubular tanks, the resulting explosion would have caused a major disaster, causing considerable loss of life.'

The court was told that the men were stopped as they made their getaway because PC Toker suspected the driver had been drinking.

When he asked the men to empty their pockets and to search the van, Mr MacFhloinn pulled out a pistol and fired four or five shots, hitting him in the stomach and leg, Mr Nutting said.

The trial continues today.