By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
In recent times, the incidence of rail terrorism threats and attacks have underscored the need for increased public transit security.
Indeed, in a study titled Subway Station Design and Management: Lessons from Case Studies of Contemporary Terrorist Incidents, published in the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, it was found that rail transit systems pose as vulnerable sites to all kinds of explosive-related attacks.
For the most part, this is because they are public in nature and transport significant concentrations of people.
Moreover, in many cities in which rail systems comprise an essential component to the economic well-being of the community, this is particularly prevalent.
In August this year, the vulnerable nature of rail transit systems as potential sites of terrorist attacks surfaced once more after a man was caught with an explosive device at Wollongong station in Sydney’s south.
Police discovered he was carrying a red container labelled ‘danger explosives’ that is used to start fires.
The Reason Why Police Approached the Man to Begin With
On 22 August 2019, Lindsay Harris was on board a train that passed through Wollongong station.
However, at around 4pm, after being noticed by the police, the 35-year-old man was suddenly approached as officers became suspicious that he was riding the train without paying the mandatory fare.
Police asked to check the man’s ticket, only to realise that he was, in fact, trying to evade the train fare.
He was then escorted from the train at Wollongong station.
Police Unearth Red Container Labelled ‘Danger Explosives’ in Man’s Bag
Once off the train, police set up an exclusion zone at the station before conducting a search of Mr Harris’ bag.
Upon doing so, they discovered a container of railway detonators.
In particular, they unearthed a red vessel labelled ‘danger explosives’, which had a fuse protruding from the top.
Mr Harris was asked about the contents of the vessel, to which he told police, “It’s used to start fires”.
The Police Rescue Squad was immediately called to assess the flask and determined several railway detonators inside.
The device was rendered inoperable.
A small quantity of methylamphetamine was also located inside Mr Harris’ bag.
Mr Harris Pleads Guilty to Possessing Explosive Device in Public Place in Court
Mr Harris faced Wollongong Local Court, where he pleaded guilty to possessing an explosive device in a public place.
He was refused bail by the magistrate, who described the offence as “serious”.
Meanwhile, according to court documents, it was revealed Mr Harris found the containers of detonators at a scrapyard in Port Kembla.
However, once he had constructed the explosive device, he became too afraid to use it.
The documents also revealed that at the time of his arrest, Mr Harris was on bail for an affray charge and had not reported to police since mid-May.
Mr Harris was also charged with possessing a prohibited drug and travelling without a valid ticket.
Incident Not Treated as Terrorism Related Offence
Meanwhile, further investigations were carried out in consultation with the Counter Terrorism Command.
Police ruled out any connection to terrorist activities.
Police remind the public not to misuse or tamper with railway detonators.
In NSW, it is an offence to be in possession of railway detonators.
What is a Railway Detonator?
Put simply, a railway detonator is a coin-sized device that is generally used as a loud warning signal to train drivers.
When the wheel of the train passes over it, the device explodes emitting a loud bang.
The penalties for carrying or placing an explosive in a public place are heavy, and it is strongly recommended to speak to a criminal lawyer for advice if ever facing such a charge.
Our criminal lawyers are based in Sydney who appear in all courts across the nation. Call our friendly team 24/7 on (02) 8606 2218 for a free consultation.
What the Penalties are for Possessing or Placing an Explosive Device in a Public Place in NSW?
It’s a crime in NSW to place or cause an explosive to be placed in or near a public place, vehicle, vessel, train or building if it’s done for the purpose of causing bodily harm to any person.
Anyone who commits this crime will face a penalty of up to 14-years prison (section 48(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)).
This penalty applies regardless of whether or not it explodes or causes any bodily harm to a person.
What does bodily harm mean? This can include a bruise, scratch, or psychological harm.
It can include psychological harm if it’s considered injury in a very serious way, beyond merely a transient emotion, feeling or state of mind (Le v R  NSWCCA 441).
The section 48 offence of placing an explosive in a public place is a ‘strictly indictable’ offence, which means that unless it gets withdrawn early by the prosecution it will be finalised by way of a trial or sentence in the District Court.
An explosive is considered something that when manufactured, mixed or assembled it can produce an explosion or pyrotechnic effect (Clause 4 Explosives Regulation 2013 (NSW)).
There is a maximum penalty of 10-years imprisonment for knowingly possessing or making or manufacturing an explosive substance, gunpowder, dangerous or noxious thing, or any machine, engine, instrument of thing if you do so with the intention to injure or commit a crime that carries a maximum penalty of at least 5 years imprisonment against a person (section 55 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)).