Dissidents blamed as policeman hurt

A Catholic police officer is fighting for his life after he was critically injured by a booby trap bomb in Northern Ireland blamed on dissident republicans.

Peadar Heffron, 33, had just left his home outside Randalstown, County Antrim to start duty in west Belfast when the device exploded under his blue Alfa Romeo car.

Constable Heffron, who spoke Irish and was captain of the Police Service of Northern Ireland's gaelic football team, was married last year.

His cousin Martin Totten, who met him with his new wife Fiona out shopping in a Tesco supermarket in Antrim just days ago, said: "This is terrifying. I just hope we're not slipping back into the dark old days. Everybody thought this was all behind us."

Shocked neighbours rushed to help the injured officer whose car careered sideways on the slippery Milltown Road, half a mile from where he lived. He was then taken to hospital for emergency treatment before being transferred to the Royal Victoria in Belfast.

Up to a dozen police cars escorted the ambulance as it drove along the M2 motorway into the city.

The explosion happened two miles from Massereene army barracks, Antrim, where two soldiers just about to leave for Afghanistan were shot dead by the Real IRA last March. Sappers Mark Quinsey, 23 and Patrick Azimkar, 21, were gunned down as they accepted a pizza delivery outside the gates of the base.

The Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, as well as other politicians and church leaders on all sides condemned the bombing.

It is the latest in a series of attacks by dissidents and virtually identical to one close to the PSNI headquarters in Belfast where an officer's girlfriend narrowly escaped death last October.

Last year Constable Heffron, who has served with the police for nine years, was among officers who attended the first meeting where discussions in Londonderry between Policing Board officials and members of the public were conducted in the Irish language. He also played a key role in establishing the PSNI's gaelic football team and was this season's captain.