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22 April 1999 Edition

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Nationalist fury as pipe bomb attack man freed

By Pádraig MacDabhaid

Nationalists along the Antrim coast are irate over the acquittal at Belfast crown court of a man who lost his right hand after a pipe bomb went off prematurely.

Richard Hastings (28) of Channel Vista, Glenarm, was cleared of possessing a pipe bomb with intent to endanger life on 17 December 1997.

Hastings claimed that while he was out walking his dogs on the day in question, three men approached him in a car. He told the court that the men threatened to shoot his wife and children if he did not take a device and throw it at the home of his Catholic neighbour.

Hastings further asserted that he lit the device and was looking for somewhere to throw it where it would not do any damage when it exploded in his hand.

Judge Corinne Philpott, in passing judgement, said that ``there were aspects of the evidence which make me suspicious as to whether or not Hastings was a willing participant''. Nonetheless, she went on to release him.

Nationalists, angry at the acquittal, have expressed concern about the circumstances leading to the decision.

Hastings appeared in court five days after the blast, accused of possessing a bomb with intent to endanger life and causing an explosion, but was released that day on bail of less than £2,000.

It is widely known that this area is a hotbed for the UVF, whose members often act under the cover names of the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders. Acting under such cover names, they have been responsible for bomb attacks, petrol bomb attacks and intimidation of Catholics. In Larne, known UVF and UDA members have driven through the town and, using loud hailers, have named and threatened Catholics.

The Glenarm attack, like so many others both in Antrim and throughout the Six Counties, could easily have led to a tragedy on a par with that which befell the Quinn family in Ballymoney.

``We are used to the RUC ignoring loyalist activity,'' said a local Sinn Féin member, ``but now the courts have turned a blind eye.''
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