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Murder charge dropped in Neil Lennon parcel bomb trial

By Christine Lavelle

Two men accused of sending improvised explosive devices to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and other high profile supporters of the football club are no longer charged with conspiring to murder them due to insufficient evidence.

Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie now stand charged with plotting to assault Mr Lennon, former MSP Trish Godman and the late Paul McBride QC, as well as various people at the premises of Cairde Na hEireann, by posting devices they believed were capable of exploding or igniting.

At the High Court in Glasgow today, trial judge Lord Turnbull directed the jury, telling them the term "and murder" had been deleted from the charge.

Lord Turnbull said: "You can only be asked to adjudicate on evidence which, as a matter of law, would be sufficient to entitle you to reach a decision.

"The evidence led in this case, no matter what you decide to make of it, would never be sufficient in law to entitle you to conclude a conspiracy to murder has taken place."

He told the jury the development had arisen during legal debate yesterday afternoon.

Muirhead, 44, from Kilwinning, and McKenzie, 42, from Saltcoats, both Ayrshire, face a further charge of dispatching an item by post to Mr Lennon at Celtic Park with the intention of making him believe it was likely to explode or ignite and cause injury or damage to property.

Both men deny the charges against them.

Muirhead's defence, QC Gordon Jackson, made his closing speech to the jury.

He said it was "impossible" that anyone could have believed they were sending viable explosive devices.

The court heard previously that none of the devices were viable.

Mr Jackson told the jury: "How could it be thought that the people sending these packages could ever, ever, ever have believed they would go off?

"These are grown men, people who hold down jobs. It is impossible."

Mr Jackson also referred to Muirhead's police interview on May 12 last year and said he made "no apologies" for his client not giving evidence in court.

He pointed out that when asked about a conversation at his son Gordon Muirhead's house in Montgomerie Terrace, Kilwinning on April 14, a day before a package addressed to the late Mr McBride was found in a letter box on the street, Muirhead told police: "Do you think I'm going to put a bomb in the street where my grandweans (sic) stay?"

Mr Jackson added that his client had lied to police at first when he said he knew nothing about the parcels, as he later admitted he knew about at least one of them but feared a "revenge attack" on his family.

The QC said that simply knowing about the packages did not mean his client thought they were going to go off.

Muirhead told police he thought they were "hoaxes" and that he thought McKenzie "sometimes lived in a fantasy world", the court heard.

Mr Jackson also said that any mention of the UVF during the trial was a "red herring" as there has been no evidence heard which linked either of the accused with the organisation.

He said: "There is not a scrap of evidence for saying these people, however stupid, bad or reprehensible, that they thought they were doing what is alleged in this indictment."

Donald Findlay QC, McKenzie's defence lawyer, said it is "preposterous" to think anyone could have believed the devices were explosive and that they could have detonated, causing the level of damage alleged by the Crown.

He said the packages were "a message".

Mr Findlay gave a theatrical demonstration to the jury, putting together parts of a "device" he hypothetically intended to send to advocate depute Tim Niven-Smith.

It had no power source or detonator, much like the packages allegedly sent by his client and Muirhead.

Giving his closing speech to the jury, the QC said: "You of course know that what I've created is not a bomb. I can call it a chicken. It's not a chicken.

"It will never become a bomb just because I say it is.

"Such a suggestion would be preposterous. Something to scare, something to frighten, oh yes, but you would never believe such a thing could be thought by anyone to be a bomb.

"What have I sent? I have sent a message that I have the ingredients available to me to at least potentially make a bomb.

"Whoever was involved, that is precisely what they were doing. They were sending a message to scare, cause alarm, cause panic or inconvenience. That is all that it was.

"It was not a conspiracy to cause severe injury."

"Nobody beyond half-witted would ever or could ever think that it would (explode). That is the only conclusion you can come to surely, on the evidence."

Mr Findlay also pointed out that McKenzie had bought items similar to those found in the packages in his "local shop" where he was very likely to be recognised and not in Inverness, Carlisle, Liverpool or somewhere else.

He said it demonstrated there was nothing "sinister" about his actions, although they could be deemed as "stupid".

The lawyer also touched upon the fact that a small amount of the explosive substance triacetone triperoxide had been found in the package sent to Ms Godman.

He said an explosives expert had told the court previously that it was unlikely the substance would explode and even it if did, it would only "pop".

Mr Findlay said the substance could have been created by "inadvertence".

He said: "I ask you as a matter of common sense: how the devil was it going to go off?

"If it was deliberately created, what is the point in creating an explosive substance and sending it to someone without the means of giving it a chance of going off?"

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