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Soldier's betrayal: DNA trail led to Ciaran Maxwell and secured conviction for deadly stockpile

By Aaron Tinney

It was sheer good fortune that exposed the secret double life of rogue marine Ciaran Maxwell.

The soldier-turned-terrorist bombmaker could have evaded justice if he had not been caught up in an unrelated assault case, a senior detective revealed.

Maxwell's suspected involvement in the violent incident led to his DNA being stored on the national database even though he was not prosecuted.

It was this that drew detectives investigating mysterious arms dumps in the Northern Ireland countryside to Maxwell, a serving Royal Marine in England.

The revelation came as the PSNI took the Belfast Telegraph behind the scenes of the year-long investigation, involving seven police departments, that led to the soldier's jailing.

It can now be revealed how:

l Maxwell had a large woodland cannabis farm that he hoped would fund his dissident activity;

l The arsenals of bombs and weapons took five years to gather;

l Police believe some improvised explosive devices from Maxwell's arsenal have not been recovered and are urging the public to "remain vigilant".

Along with the 14 pipe bombs, Maxwell also stashed two anti-personnel directional mines, two explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), 29 complete firing systems, 33 initiators - including two military initiators, 13 military 'Igniter Safety Fuze Electric' initiators, three fully constructed improvised detonators and other components parts for IEDs.

At Maxwell's 14 known weapons hides in Northern Ireland and England, there were 13 military 'Igniter Safety Fuse Electric' initiators, three fully constructed improvised detonators and other components parts for IEDs - improvised explosive devices.

He had enough materials to make a further 19 pipe bombs, two anti-personnel directional mines, one EFP, three victim-operated torch IEDs, 34 firing systems and 76 initiators. Police also uncovered 397 rounds of ammunition subject to licensing restrictions, 137 blank rounds of ammunition, four British Army magazines, 29.27 metres of detonating cord, 5.263 metres of green burning fuse and 10 timed power units, as well as large quantities of chemicals for use in manufacturing explosives and IEDs, both here and in England.

But Detective Chief Inspector Gillian Kearney is concerned Maxwell's complete arsenal has not been collected. She said: "Maxwell was very well organised and very methodical in what he did.

"I believe the majority of his items have been recovered, but there may have been some items that have not - but it is a small amount and we continue to investigate that.

"They could be small improvised explosive devices.

"If anyone comes into contact with a suspicious item, they should contact police."

Detectives were able to identify Maxwell through DNA examination of the bomb-making items found by the public in Northern Ireland before they discovered he was a serving Royal Marine living in Exeter.

It was by chance they had his DNA on file. DCI Kearney said Maxwell was involved in a minor "physical assault" case years before he joined the Marines in 2010 and his details were on the system in relation to the incident.

It was separate to the assault Maxwell suffered in 2002 when, aged 16, he was the victim of a ferocious sectarian beating in his home town of Larne. He sustained a fractured skull and multiple other injuries when a gang of loyalists attacked him with iron bars and golf clubs.

During his recovery he recounted the incident to republican newspaper An Phoblacht in an article that was accompanied by a picture showing the extent of his injuries (right).

The DCI paid tribute to the public who initially reported finding Maxwell's weapons.

On Saturday, March 5 last year police received a report from a man walking in Carnfunnock Forest Park in Larne of plastic barrels buried in the ground near the car park of the popular recreation spot.

When recovered, the barrels were found to contain IEDs, component parts to make these devices along with tools and electrical equipment.

There were also various chemicals which, when mixed, could have been used to form homemade explosives.

Then on Saturday, May 14 last year a second hide of barrels was reported by a member of the public.

They were buried in the ground at Capanagh Forest on the Starbog Road, Larne. These also contained a large quantity of explosives, IEDs, component parts and military equipment.

DCI Kearney said: "These two hides amount to one of the most significant seizures of munitions in recent years in Northern Ireland, both in terms of size and capability."

In woodland in Exeter, south-west England, police discovered Maxwell had a significant cannabis production operation at one site that police said he "intended to produce ... for selling".

He also had a collection of images of people's stolen bank cards and identity documents that would have enabled online money fraud.

It is believed Maxwell felt he could fund a terrorist campaign by profiting from drug dealing and card fraud.

But police do not know the extent of Maxwell's drug use or if that contributed to his plans to kill.

DCI Kearney added: "His cannabis operation was considerable and was not only for individual use.

"But we do not know about his personal drug use."

Maxwell stockpiled his arsenal between January 1, 2011 and August 24 last year, when he was arrested in Exeter under the Terrorism Act and taken to London for interview by officers from the PSNI and the Metropolitan Police Service's Counter Terrorism Command, known as SO15.

Along with the PSNI and SO15, the investigation was supported by the South West Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit in England, as well as police in Avon, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

An anti-terror search operation carried out near Exeter on behalf of the Metropolitan Police at the end of last year cost Devon and Cornwall police in excess of £1.1m.

Four days after Maxwell was taken into custody, a large scale multi-agency search operation involving the PSNI and military along with specialist advisers was also launched in Larne.

It included a former quarry on the Old Glenarm Road, a former convent, town park and the Carnfunnock and Inver River areas.

The searches resulted not only in finds of component bomb parts, but also military and PSNI uniforms.

DCI Kearney said: "What I think is most important to acknowledge is that all of this was only possible after members of the public came forward to the police with information alerting us to the presence of barrels at both Carnfunnock and Capanagh.

"These items could have been used to cause serious harm to people living in our communities and, make no mistake - Ciaran Maxwell had no regard for anyone as can be seen by the fact he used these very popular public areas."

The Maxwell case, which police are calling "highly unusual", leaves serious questions for the Ministry of Defence to answer over its recruit vetting procedures.

It was less than six months after Maxwell joined the elite Royal Marines Commando unit that he began carrying out research online into the manufacture of explosives and began compiling a list of potential targets.

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