Rick Crook speaks at the Air India inquiry in Ottawa about an interview he conducted in late 1984. ((CBC))

A former Vancouver police officertestified Monday thatnews of the Air India bombing made him recall an interview he had done eight months earlier with a crime suspect who told him a bomb would be planted on one of the airline's 747 jets.

Rick Crook, now a civilian employee with the RCMP, was the first witness atthe inquiry into the bombing resumed in Ottawa.

He said that as soon as he heard about the bombing on June 23, 1985,he wondered if there was a connection to an earlier interview he and another Vancouver police officer had done with a person charged with a "most serious offence."

Crookadded: "It was a reference to two bombs that was made in the interview that I'd conducted in October 1984 that caused me to think they were connected."

The 1985 bombing killed 329 passengers aboard Air India Flight 182, which exploded over the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Ireland. The crime was the worst mass murder in Canadian history.

A separate luggage bomb destined for a second Air India flight killed two Japanese baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita airport, just 55 minutes before Flight 182 disappeared from radar screens.

2 bombs, 2 planes

Crook said the person the two Vancouver officers interviewed, identified during Monday's testimony as Person 2, had requested the interview in hopes his co-operation could help him get bail.

In response to questioning from commission counsel Anil Kapoor, Crook read transcripts of the October 1984 interview in which Person 2 tells the officers he knows of a plotthat involvedtwo bombs on two airplanes.

  • Police officer: A backup bomb?
  • Person 2: Yeah.
  • Police officer: What kind of an airplane?
  • Person 2: Air India 747.
  • Police officer: Air India 747. Is this going to be leaving from Montreal?
  • Person 2: Yes.
  • Police officer: And it's going to be when?
  • Person 2: I don't know the exact date, you know, the time. The flight leaves only from Montreal in Canada.

(In fact, the Air India flight that exploded in June 1985 originated in Toronto but made a stop at Montreal'sMirabel airport en route to another planned stop at Heathrow airport. It would then haveproceeded to its destination in India.)

In a report passed along to his supervisors soon after the interview, Crook wrote that although he believed Person 2 was unreliable, he was concerned the bomb plot was a reality.

The report was also sent to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Criminal Intelligence Service of British Columbia, said Crook.

More 'persons' in testimony

Person 2 also came upin testimonyprovided by a man identified at the inquiry as Person 1.

Person 1, who has a lengthy criminal record and requested anonymity at the inquiry even though he has testified before in public,saidthat he was first approached in May 1984 by two people identified as Person 2, a friend since 1977,and Person Z, a middleman.

Person 1, a heavy duty mechanic,said he met with the two men on three occasions to talk about plots to bomb an Air India airplane and to assassinate India's prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in order to avenge the storming of the Golden Templein Amritsar.

Furthermore, he said, the men talkedabout acquiring explosives or remote control devices to bomb a plane.

"I was to make a bomb with either a remote device or a time clock," said Person 1, adding that he was supposed to go to Montreal and gain access to Air India's maintenance department.

He explained that he agreed to go along with the plots so he could gather as much information topass on toboth the RCMP and Vancouver police during that period, the inquiry was told. Person 1never took steps to finalize the deal, the inquiry heard.

"I wanted to prevent an airplane from blowing up in the sky," said Person 1, adding that he cried when his wife told him an Air India plane exploded. "I knew they succeeded."

Person 1 said heknew the plotters were serious when they offered him $200,000 toget a bomb on board a plane inMontrealand was latershowna suitcase of money.

Ina separate matter, Person 1 said he went to the Vancouver police, begging them not to arrest Person2on a conspiracy to commit murder charge so that he could continue gathering information about the bomb plots.

But the policedidn't take him seriously and a transcript ofthe conversation was somehowobtained by Person 2's wife and shown toPerson 1 when he visited her one day, he said.

Fearing for his life,Person 1 left and had no further contact with the plotters after October 1984, the inquiry was told.

After the 1984 bombing incident, Person 1 met police for more interviews, and submitted to a polygraph test, it was told.

In his opening remarks, commission counsel Mark Freiman said the aim of the inquiry over the next few days will be to determine whether there was an intelligence failure.

The inquiry, headed by retired Supreme Court justice John Major, will also hear Monday that government agencies were warned a number of times an airline attack was imminent.

The government has repeatedly said it had no specific knowledge of an attack.

Probe behind schedule

Major said Monday that the inquiry is about six months behind where he would like it to be.

In February, he threatenedto shut down itdown unless the government relented in what he considered excessive secrecy claims.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded with a promise to loosen the rules, and lawyers for both sides say they have made "good progress" since then in resolving the issue.

Major had hoped to finish gathering evidence by this spring and deliver a report to the government in September, a timetable that all concerned now admit won't be met.

The revised plan is to hold public hearings through May and June, take a two-month summer break and return for a final month of public testimony in September. Major now hopes to deliver a report by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, the inquiry will hear testimony from another B.C. police officer,beginning 9:30 a.m. ET.

With files from the Canadian Press