Orange Volunteers banner found at Mark Harbinson home, court told

Loyalist Mark Harbinson at a previous court appearance

Loyalist Mark Harbinson at a previous court appearance

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

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 only arrested after fleeing first 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 find made on December 21.

Harbinson denies a charge of possessing a firearm, 28 rounds of ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life.

With his period on licence for a previous sexual offence now revoked, his application for bail was also refused.

Police carried out searches of his home and an outbuilding under the Terrorism Act based on information received.

Prosecution counsel Kate McKay said the disassembled pistol, silencer and bullets were found inside a biscuit tin in the rafters of the barn.

Three black balaclavas were also discovered in a storage area.

A drinking bar or shebeen was said to contain a number of items associated with the Orange Volunteers, a proscribed loyalist grouping.

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

Later that day armed response police attempted to stop a car belonging to him on country roads 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 lent 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.

From there he travelled to England to stay with friends in Cumbria, the court heard.

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

Specialist firearm teams and a police negotiator were drafted in as part of the efforts to detain him.

But Harbinson was said to have escaped as officers moved in, before finally 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, further claiming to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and having a “mental meltdown”.

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 it had been displayed at Drumcree in 1996 and he paid £200 for it as a collector’s item.

“He said it had no relevance to his life,” Mrs McKay added.

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

More than 100 people, many of them loyalists, were said to have been at a barbeque held at the address last August.

Another 70 people attended a Halloween party in the barn area.

Mr Patton also claimed Harbinson may not ultimate face the current over over a broken down gun concealed away in a tin.

Explaining why the accused fled, the barrister said: “Effectively he panicked. His licence is due to expire in November this year and everything had been going well for him.”

Harbinson decided to go to longstanding friends in Cumbria who have always provided “a shoulder to cry on”, Mr Patton added.

But despite the offer of a £5,000 cash surety from the loyalist’s mother, Judge Gordon Kerr QC refused bail.

Citing the “determined efforts to avoid detention”, the judge held there was a risk of both re-offending and further attempt to abscond.