Bomber still at large

December 01, 2017

Police have never closed the book on a car bombing plot foiled in 2007 by an alert and incredibly brave Benalla Rural City Council worker.

Tragically the man who was the target of the attack has not been able to close the door on the memories.

Suffering severe post-traumatic stress disorder from the day he was nearly killed, he was unable to go back to his job and daily routine.

And has since moved away to try and widen the distance between himself and the terror of his memories of the day someone tried to blow him up.

At 2.45pm on Monday, November 19, in 2007 the council worker who discovered the bomb, said he saw wires sticking out of the device, which had been put on the gas tank on the spare tyre of his council ute, which was parked outside a co-worker’s house.

Despite suspecting it was a deadly explosive, the man carefully drove the ute about 500m to a more isolated area on Shawbrook Ave — and only then dialled 000.

More than 50 residents were evacuated from surrounding streets and the Civic Centre while the bomb squad from Melbourne was called to disarm the device.

At the same time police fanned out across Benalla for a secondary explosive.

Residents were not allowed back into their homes for the next seven hours.

Now 10 years on the case might still be open, but frustrated investigators admit any leads they had have long run cold.

Benalla Sergeant Robert Davis said interviews were conducted with persons of interest following the incident, but no one was prosecuted.

‘‘The case is still open... and nothing of that nature has happened since,’’ Sgt Davis said.

‘‘It was quite a unique incident for Benalla and definitely a dangerous one.’’

In 2008 police offered a $5000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in the plot.

Police are confident there was no terrorism link — their investigations remain focused on a vendetta against the council worker.

Benalla Leading Senior Constable Jeff McGeorge recalled the incident as being ‘‘bloody scary’’.

‘‘When someone tells you it is a bomb and you have to check it out, it is bloody scary,’’ he said.

‘‘Fortunately for me I’d recently done a course identifying what explosives look like and I identified it as gelignite.’’

Pat Claridge, Benalla mayor at the time, recalled the incident shook everyone in town.

‘‘The long-term damage was real for everyone, but it really shook him (the victim),’’ Ms Claridge said.

‘‘He wasn’t able to continue with his job. He really enjoyed his work and was quite good at it as well.

‘‘But this was a planned attack — not instantaneous, but pre-meditated. And the brazenness of it too; it was shocking to think that someone would do that in Benalla.’’

A family member of the victim, who still lives in the area, told the Ensign the former council worker had since moved away, still suffering PTSD and had never fully recovered from the shock, and the realisation someone might want to kill him.

Sgt Davis said the gelignite in the ute was not homemade, was typically found in the mining and building industries and made predominantly of commercial-grade explosives and components.

He said the incident had the potential to ‘‘result in injury, if not death’’.

‚óŹPolice have renewed their appeal for anyone with any information on the case to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800333000.

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