Top loyalist remanded into custody over pistol find

Prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson has been remanded into custody charged with having a semi-automatic pistol, bullets and a silencer.

Standing in the dock of Lisburn Magistrate’s Court on Saturday, 48-year-old Harbinson, from the Sheepwalk Road in Lisburn, was accused of having a Makarov 9mm semi-automatic pistol, 28 rounds of suitable ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life “on a date unknown prior to 21 December 2015”.

Giving evidence to the court, Detective Sergeant Cush said he believed he could connect Harbinson to the offences and that police were objecting to bail amid fears that he posed a serious risk of flight.

The officer from the serious crime branch of the PSNI described how, acting on information, police searched Harbinson’s home under the terrorism act on 21 December last year.

They discovered the disassembled weapon, bullets and the working silencer hidden in a tin of biscuits in an out building.

He recounted how Harbinson himself was not present during the extensive search but later fled the country, firstly to the Republic of Ireland and then to Cumbria.

Initially, there had been a “tentative arrangement” for Harbinson to hand himself in the following day but he failed to appear at Musgrave Street Station and DS Cush told the court how colleagues spotted Harbinson’s Vauxhall Vectra on the motorway but it sped off when the driver saw them.

“The next day it would appear that Mr Harbinson, assisted by someone else, was able to make his way to the outlet centre in Banbridge and from there to the Republic of Ireland,” claimed the officer.

He added that he stayed in the Republic until 27 December, when he took a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead before travelling to an address in Cumbria.

DS Cush said the PSNI and Cumbria police raided that address at 6am on New Year’s Eve but that “it would appear that something had disturbed him at that place and he again made off from police.”

A search of a mobile home at that property uncovered Harbinson’s passport, a bag of clothes, between £3,000 and £5,000 in Bank of England £20 notes and his travel itinerary from Dublin to Cumbria.

Harbinson eventually handed himself in.

The court heard that, during a police interview, Harbinson claimed he had not been driving his car when it had been spotted on the motorway and that he “collected” Bank of England notes as a matter of habit.

DS Cush said police were objecting to Harbinson being released on bail because “he would not abide by any conditions and would likely flee the country”.

Under cross examination from defence barrister Craig Patton, DS Cush confirmed that, while DNA and fingerprints testing has yet to be conducted, the gun was a working firearm and the silencer also functioned.

The officer told the lawyer that, although Harbinson claimed during police questioning never to have seen or touched the biscuit tin, “he could not explain how his thumbprint was on the inside of the box.”

Mr Patton described how Harbinson had held a barbecue in the summer which had been attended by around 100 people, claiming that “he has no control of where are they go when they are there” and further submitting that it is of no great surprise that he had easy access to clothes, money and his passport as “it is fairly public knowledge that he would have a lot of enemies”.

Conceding that Harbinson faces “an extremely serious charge” and that his fleeing was “stupidity at its highest form,” Mr Patton submitted that he could be released on bail albeit subject to the most stringent conditions.

Refusing bail however, District Judge Amanda Henderson said she had “real concerns” that Harbinson would again flee the jurisdiction given that he had “immediate access to a passport, stash of clothing and a large sum of money” and had “immediately went on the run” when he discovered that police were searching his home.

Harbinson was remanded into custody to appear again on 25 January via videolink.