A west Belfast man accused of planting a bomb under a prison officer’s van conducted internet searches about him in the months and weeks leading to the attack, a court heard yesterday.
Adrian Ismay died 11 days after a device exploded under his blue Volkswagen van as he drove from his home in the Cregagh area of the city in March 2016.
Christopher Robinson (48), who volunteered for St John’s Ambulance at the same time as Mr Ismay, is charged with murder, possessing an improvised explosive device and providing money or property for the purposes of terrorism.
He denies all the charges and is currently standing trial at Belfast Crown Court.
During yesterday’s hearing, an expert analyst provided with a mobile seized from Robinson’s Aspen Park home in Twinbrook was called to give evidence.
The analyst confirmed there had been internet searches regarding Mr Ismay made on the phone from September 27, 2015, up to the bomb attack on March 4, 2016.
She also confirmed there were multiple searches of local news websites, including UTV, BBC and the Belfast Telegraph, on the day of the explosion.
Mr Ismay was a member of the Community Rescue Service, and six months before the attack the phone taken from Robinson’s address was used to search for the organisation online.
In January 2016, searches were again conducted on the Community Rescue Service and Mr Ismay’s profile on their website was accessed, as well as the organisation’s Belfast address.
Also searched for that month were the opening times of a Tesco store in the Cregagh area of the city. The following month, Mr Ismay’s profile was again searched for on the Community Rescue Service’s website.
The analyst was asked about internet searches and activity on the day of the explosion.
The device exploded at the end of Hillsborough Drive at 7am on March 4, and the examined phone showed internet searches about the explosion began at 9.18am.
Several searches regarding the explosion were made on a now defunct website, while seconds later a search was conducted on the UTV website.
Throughout the course of March 4, news articles with headlines such as ‘Prison officer injured after bomb exploded under van’ and ‘Dissident threat severe after booby-trap bomb’ were accessed.
The analyst was asked to examine photographs on the phone. Shown in court, these depicted Mr Ismay’s van at the scene of the blast and scene of crime officers in the area.
Internet searches about the incident were conducted in the days after the explosion, with news articles carrying headlines such as ‘Miracle prison officer and wife did not die in booby-trap intended to murder’ accessed.
Under cross-examination from defence barrister Arthur Harvey QC, the analyst said that during her examination of the phone she noted scores of “benign searches” such as ‘Santander’.
She was also asked about searches conducted between March 3 and March 6, 2016 – a period when Mr Harvey said the bomb attack was a “dominant feature of local news”.
The analyst agreed with the defence that there was “extensive press covering” of the incident at the time and also agreed anyone accessing news over that period would have seen this coverage.
The trial continues.