Belfast Telegraph

Police chased top loyalist's car at 100mph after gun find, court told

By Alan Erwin

Police hunting prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson over the discovery of a gun and ammunition pursued his car at speeds in excess of 100mph, the High Court has been told.

Prosecutors also revealed that balaclavas and a banner for the outlawed Orange Volunteers were seized along with the semi-automatic pistol during searches at his Co Antrim home.

Harbinson was arrested after fleeing to the Republic of Ireland and then to Cumbria, a judge was told.

The 48-year-old, of Sheepwalk Road in Lisburn, claimed he panicked and left Northern Ireland following the discovery on December 21.

Harbinson denied a charge of possessing a firearm, 28 rounds of ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life. But with his period on licence for a previous sexual offence revoked, he was refused bail.

Police searched his home and an outbuilding under the Terrorism Act. Prosecution counsel Kate McKay said the disassembled weapon and bullets were found in a barn. Three balaclavas were also discovered in a storage area, and a drinking bar was said to contain items associated with the Orange Volunteers.

Harbinson, who rose to prominence for speeches made during the Drumcree marching dispute, was not present for the searches.

Later that day, armed response police attempted to stop a car belonging to him between Moira and Lisburn, the court heard. The pursuit reached speeds of over 100mph, with the vehicle forcing other motorists off the road, according to Mrs McKay.

Harbinson later denied being behind the wheel, claiming he had loaned his car to a diesel fitter.

It was claimed that on December 22 he was driven across the border after someone brought him his passport, clothes and up to £5,000 in cash. He then travelled to stay with friends in Cumbria, the court heard.

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

Firearms teams and a negotiator were drafted in as part of the efforts to detain him, but Harbinson was said to have escaped as officers moved in, before being captured 12 miles away.

During questioning back in Belfast, he denied knowing anything about the gun and ammunition. The former Orangeman told police he had moved away from bands and the loyal orders, claiming to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He rejected any links with the Orange Volunteers, allegedly insisting, "my campaign is over", and declaring himself to have no interest in modern loyalism.

The court heard that when questioned about a bannerette for the organisation found at his home, he claimed he had paid £200 for it as a collector's item. "He said it had no relevance to his life," Mrs McKay added.

Defence counsel Craig Patton argued the weapon and balaclavas could have been left at the house by others who attended gatherings organised by his client.

More than 100 people were said to have been at a barbecue held at the address last August. Another 70 attended a Halloween party.

Explaining why the accused fled, the barrister said: "He panicked. His licence is due to expire in November and everything had been going well for him."

Despite the offer of a £5,000 cash surety from the loyalist's mother, judge Gordon Kerr QC refused bail, citing fears the defendant would re-offend or abscond.

Belfast Telegraph


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