Belfast Telegraph

I did not shop Royal Marine Maxwell, says man jailed over cache of arms

Accomplice denies setting up dissident soldier friend

By Staff Reporter

A former accomplice of Ciaran Maxwell has denied setting up the Royal Marine turned renegade republican.

Maxwell (31), from Larne in Co Antrim, was jailed for 18 years after an arsenal of weapons and explosives was found in 43 purpose-built hides at eight locations in Northern Ireland and England.

Maxwell, who was with 40 Commando based in Somerset at the time of the offences, pleaded guilty to preparation of terrorist acts between January 2011 and August last year, possessing images of bank cards for fraud and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.

During the case the Old Bailey heard that in 2009 Maxwell decided to try and fulfil an "ambition" to join the Marines and, shortly before a deployment to Afghanistan, met old acquaintance Niall Lehd and told him about his career.

Maxwell's lawyer said Lehd was "interested" and later revealed he had connections to those in the republican movement who thought Maxwell was "someone who might well be someone of use".

Maxwell feared for his life and the safety of his family if it became widely known he was in the British military, the lawyer had said.

He added: "He (Maxwell) was building small devices and it became apparent that Mr Lehd was keen that their acquaintanceship should continue and become deeper and Mr Maxwell should take a part in what in the beginning was a rather unusual hobby."

Lehd was arrested in February 2013, having test-detonated one of Maxwell's pipe bombs, and he immediately admitted his guilt.

He then took police to a nearby field, from which he retrieved weapons and explosives stashed in two barrels hidden in the ground.

The arms had been put there by Maxwell, whose two other hides in Carnfunnock Country Park and Capanagh Forest in Co Antrim were later stumbled upon by members of the public last year. Despite being caught with an arsenal including high-powered military grade explosives never seen before in Northern Ireland, 28-year-old Lehd was jailed for just three years.

Lehd has now denied that he led the authorities to Maxwell. "I was not set up and did not set up Ciaran Maxwell or anyone else," he told the Sunday Life. "I can't go into this, I can't say anything further."

It was also reported that neither Maxwell nor Lehd were members of any established dissident republican group, despite claims to the contrary.

During Maxwell's sentencing, Lehd, said in court to have the mind of a 12-year-old, was named as being "associated with the Continuity IRA". But Lehd, who was not charged with CIRA membership, served his three- year sentence on the criminal wing of Maghaberry Prison.

Republican sources said they were "baffled" at the linking of Lehd and Maxwell to the CIRA.

One said: "No one had heard of either of them until their arrests. The fact that Lehd or Maxwell didn't bother trying to get on to the republican wing at Maghaberry, or seek assistance from republican prisoner support groups, tells you everything."

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph