Belfast Telegraph

Blackmail plot accused allegedly used tracking device to identify safe house ordered by dissident Catholic bishop Pat Buckley, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A man accused of a £25,000 blackmail plot allegedly used a tracking device to identify a safe house offered by dissident Catholic bishop Pat Buckley, the High Court heard today.

Mark Bamber turned up at the independent cleric's address in Larne, Co Antrim and also confronted the victim as detectives tried to move him in the middle of the night, prosecutors claimed.

A judge was told the "bizarre" case involved threats being issued over a suspected drugs stash going missing.

Bamber, 30, from Cullybackey Road in Ahoghill, denies charges of blackmail, assault, and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.

The second-hand car dealer was refused bail amid concerns about possible re-offending or interference with the investigation.

Police were contacted by the alleged victim earlier this month, claiming his life had been threatened by men declaring themselves to be from the UDA.

According to his account he was being paid £800 a month to store drugs brought to his house in suitcases and bin bags.

It was claimed that he came home on April 15 to find Bamber and another man in the property.

They allegedly told him the drugs were gone and he had 24 hours to either produce them or pay £25,000.

Prosecution counsel Conor Gillespie said: "They were aggressive and threatened to cut his ear off."

During this encounter the man was questioned about his civil partner and had one interrogator's feet pressed into his stomach, it was alleged. 

He claimed menacing texts were also sent, including one stating: "I will kill if my s*** is not back."

The court heard how two plainclothes detectives then took him to the arranged safe house in Larne.

But as they arrived just after midnight Bamber and two other men appeared and said they wanted to speak to the alleged victim, according to the prosecution.

Mr Gillespie said police instead took him to another "place of safety", detaining the accused four days later on April 21.

Asked why no arrests were made at the scene in Larne, the barrister explained how the officers were not armed at the time.

Opposing bail on the basis of potential interference with witnesses, he revealed how the controversial cleric was to have supplied the planned safe house.

"The applicant showed Pat Buckley his phone and some sort of tracking device that he was able to track the movements of the injured party's car," Mr Gillespie said.

He also disclosed details of a suspected attack at the home of the man's civil partner.

Windows were smashed, radiators ripped off walls, the attic was ransacked and a laptop computer stolen, the court heard.

During police questioning Bamber claimed he only brought clothes to be washed and ironed at the alleged victim's home because his wife refused to do his laundry.

He said he had been searching for £5,000 stored at the complainant's property following a car sale.

Barry McKenna, defending, claimed his client decided to keep the money there to stop his wife using it for home improvements.

He also told the court how Bamber's uncle was previously in a relationship with the alleged victim.

Stressing that the offences are denied, the lawyer noted: "Pat Buckley is going to allege this applicant told him they had some type of tracing device on a phone which allowed them to arrive at his door.

"It does seem to be a totally bizarre state of affairs."

But refusing bail, Lord Justice Coghlin ruled: "There is a risk of further offences and a risk of interference with witnesses."

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