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Loyalist Mark Harbinson refused bail

Published 04/11/2016

Prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson
Prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson

Prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson, who fled to England after a gun and ammunition were found at his Co Antrim home, has failed in a new bid to be released from custody.

Harbinson's lawyers argued that he should be granted bail to help out on the family farm due to "staggering" delays in the case.

But a High Court judge refused his fourth application after being told a preliminary enquiry will be held next week.

Harbinson, 49, faces a weapons charge linked to the discovery of a semi-automatic pistol, silencer, bullets and balaclavas during searches at his Sheepwalk Road address in Lisburn last December.

Police found them inside a biscuit tin in the rafters of a barn beside the property.

A shebeen-style drinking bar was said to contain items associated with the Orange Volunteers, including a banner for the proscribed loyalist grouping.

Harbinson denies possessing the firearm, 28 rounds of ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life.

The accused, who rose to prominence for speeches made during protests at the ban on Orangemen parading from Drumcree Church in Portadown, was not present during the searches.

Later that day armed response police attempted to stop a car belonging to him on country roads between Moira and Lisburn, the court previously heard.

The pursuit reached speeds of more than 100mph, with the vehicle forcing other motorists off the road, according to the prosecution.

Harbinson later denied being behind the wheel, claiming to have lent his car to a diesel fitter who he declined to identify.

It was alleged that he crossed the border after someone brought him his passport, clothes and £7,000 in cash.

From there he travelled to England to stay with friends in Cumbria, the court was told.

Cumbrian police, backed by PSNI officers, launched an operation to arrest him on New Year's Eve.

Specialist firearm teams and a police negotiator were drafted in as part of efforts to detain him.

The former Orangeman was said to have escaped as officers moved in, before finally being captured 12 miles away.

Opposing his latest bid to be released, prosecution counsel Conor Maguire argued that he is still a flight risk.

"The applicant fled Northern Ireland and was at large for 10 days," he said.

Harbinson's legal team previously claimed he travelled to England while suffering depression and fearing for his safety.

Renewing his application for bail today, defence barrister Craig Patton claimed the gun found on a sprawling farm frequented by others had been in a "decrepit state".

Accusing the prosecution of failing to progress the case, he added: "The delay has been continual and quite staggering throughout."

Mr Patton also insisted his client no longer has any public profile.

"The press seem to have an obsession with describing him as a prominent loyalist," he said.

Refusing bail, however, Mrs Justice Keegan ruled: "The position in this case is that the PE (preliminary enquiry) papers have now been served and the PE is listed on Monday."

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