Pssst.! The next time you see a knot of slightly grubby men clutching notepads, cameras and thermos flasks outside of your local bus station, don’t just assume they are bus spotters. They may be (whisper it)… terrorists.
Witness the sorry case of Ryan Lavery, whose own solicitor describes as a ‘nerd, an anorak and a trainspotter’, who was arrested earlier this week near Downpatrick, Northern Ireland and promptly brought before the courts on terrorism charges.
Ryan, it seems, is accused of collecting information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. The Police’s subsequent discovery of photographs of vehicles coming in and out of Ballykinlar Army Base on his computer seemed, to them, to endorse their action.
He is also charged with having a document likely to be of use to terrorists – to it, a list of vehicle registration numbers found at a house he used to live in overlooking the entrance to the barracks.
In court, Mr Lavery's defence solicitor argued that his client was "a trainspotter, a loner, an anorak, a nerd with no friends" and said that if he was put beside an airport "he would take pictures of planes". All of which sounds a bit harsh, frankly. I mean, he’s meant to be on Ryan’s side, isn’t he?
He added that Ryan's father works at Ballykinlar – no shortage of inside information there, I’d assume - and his client had visited an open day at the base last year where he had photographs taken of him holding a machine gun. So. Not exactly deep-cover, then….
Unfortunately, the District Judge refused him bail due to the risk of him committing further trainspotting offences and said it would have to be up to a High Court judge to decide if Mr Lavery really was a trainspotter or not.
I’ve heard plenty of cases of bus enthusiasts and other people innocently taking photos of buses being questioned – hassled, even - by the police, but this one seems a bit strong.
Mind you, it probably reflects the heightened awareness to such things in Northern Ireland, but it also brings to mind the case of the party of British aeroplane spotters in Greece who were imprisoned after being convicted of spying – all because the Greeks simply could not comprehend why anyone would want to collect aeroplane registration numbers for fun.
Let’s hope Ryan really is a dangerous terrorist otherwise the courts and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are going to look very silly indeed.