UDA link revealed as pair jailed over inept effort to buy guns on 'dark net'
Handguns bought on the 'dark net' by two Co Antrim men linked to a loyalist feud may have been destined for use by the South East Antrim UDA, the PSNI has said.
Belfast Crown Court had heard how one defendant was arrested after turning up late at a shopping mall to collect the weapons in his pyjamas, while a lawyer for another told the judge he was "not dealing with a Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes".
The plot came undone because Darren Bennett (23), who was handling the 'dark net' negotiations, was unaware he was dealing with two undercover police officers calling themselves Joe and Danny.
Bennett, of Church Road, Newtownabbey, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess two Glock pistols, 20 rounds of ammunition and attempted possession of cocaine and MDMA in February last year. He was jailed for 20 months, plus a further 28 on licensed parole.
Thomas Morgan (42), of Burnside Road, Doagh, was handed the same sentence for conspiracy to possess the firearms to "enable another person to cause a person to believe or fear unlawful violence would be used against them''.
Money man Scott Colin McMurran (26), of Highvale Gardens, Belfast, who admitted helping Bennett to gather £1,990 to buy the class A drugs, was freed on 18 months probation after agreeing to complete the maximum of 100 hours community service.
He had provided £300 of his own money, which was added to £1,600 of Bennett's after the latter had problems getting cash from his own bank account.
Last week the court heard that Morgan had directed Bennett to try and buy the guns, but at one point pulled out of the deal fearing they were being "cheated'' by the suppliers as they could not test fire the weapons before purchase.
At this point Bennett, unaware he was talking to undercover PSNI officers, enlisted the help of McMurran to help him put up the money for a £2,000 Glock 19 pistol for and a £990 Glock 17.
But defence counsel, Eilis McDermott QC told the hearing that McMurran thought he was buying drugs. In a signed handwritten note given to police at interview, he said: "I had no part in any attempt to possess a firearm.''
The court heard how Bennett, who has drugs convictions, was arrested by covert officers when he turned up late dressed in his pyjamas up at Belfast's Yorkgate shopping centre (now Cityside).
Police later recovered a parcel of drugs from Carrick Post office addressed to Bennett. In total, 13.75gms of cocaine was recovered along with 55gms of MDMA, with a combined value of £4,000.
Defence barrister Mark Farrell described Bennett's actions as "amateurish, unsophisticated and lacking any real strategy''.
The prosecution lawyer said text messages between Morgan and Bennett showed "that the attempt to possess the firearms was in the context of the ongoing feud in Carrickfergus at the time".
Morgan's barrister Greg Berry QC said his client had taken "steps to protect himself" after an attempt to act as a "mediator'' in the Carrick feud led to death threats being made against him.
Describing Morgan as someone with a low IQ, the QC added: "You are not dealing with a Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes. This is not a criminal mastermind."
Speaking outside court, a Detective Inspector from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force welcomed the sentencing.
"We believe these weapons would have ended up under the control of paramilitaries, who seek to rule communities with fear. In this case, we believe these weapons may have been destined for use by the South East Antrim UDA," she said.
"These men were attempting to bring lethal weapons and drugs onto our streets. Guns are used for one purpose only and that is to kill and maim. There is no reason to justify why anyone would want to bring guns into our communities.
"When a gun is fired, there is no guarantee where the bullet could end up or who it could harm. I am confident that the streets are safer now that we have prevented these men getting hold of weapons and ammunition.
"In addition, a quantity of class A drugs was seized, which I believe Mr Bennett intended to sell.
"Drugs cause harm and misery to those who take them, as well as to families who watch the effects of these substances on their loved ones."