Pat Buckley to be witness in ‘blackmail case’

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Independent Catholic cleric Pat Buckley is set to be a prosecution witness in an alleged £25,000 blackmail case.

Mark Anthony Bamber (32), of Cullybackey Road, Ahoghill, appeared in the dock at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday for a preliminary enquiry to send his case to Antrim Crown Court in January.

He is also accused of conspiring with the man he allegedly blackmailed to possess cannabis with intent to supply the drug and Bamber is also alleged to have assaulted the man.

It is alleged Bamber conspired with the man, to have in his possession, cannabis with intent to supply, on dates between September 2014 and April 2015.

The blackmail and assault charges also relate to dates in April last year.

In the dock beside Bamber was Liza McCready (22), of Ballycregagh Road, Clough, who is accused of doing an act which had a tendency to pervert the course of justice, namely providing a false account to police of her knowledge of Bamber’s movements on April 16/17, 2015.

Defence lawyer Neil Moore said the main witness in the case is an “assisting offender”.

He added it is a “bizarre” case and another prosecution witness is “bishop Patrick Buckley”.

Mr Moore said undercover police officers were involved in a “wholly complex case”.

Both accused were released on bail to appear at the Crown Court in the New Year.

During a High Court bail application for Bamber in 2015, it was heard the case allegedly involved threats being issued over a suspected drugs stash going missing and that Bamber was denying the charges.

Police were contacted by the alleged victim, 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, 2015, 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 told the High Court last year: “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.

It was claimed menacing texts were also sent, including one stating: “I will kill if my s*** is not back.”

The court last year heard how two plainclothes detectives then took the man 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 Pat Buckley 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 High 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 Bamber in the High Court last year, claimed his client decided to keep the money there to stop his wife using it for home improvements.

He also told the court how a relative of Bamber’s 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 (Bamber) told him they had some type of tracing device on a phone which allowed them to arrive at his door.”