Royal Marine ‘forced to pretend to have republican sympathies’, court hears

Ciar�n Maxwell.
Ciar�n Maxwell.

A Royal Marine who lived a “dangerous double life” as a terrorist bomb-maker claims he faked sympathies for the Irish republican cause because he was “paralysed” with fear, a court has heard.

Ciaran Maxwell stashed anti-personnel mines, mortars, ammunition and 14 pipe bombs - four of which were deployed - in 43 purpose-built hides at eight locations in Northern Ireland and England.

Bomb-making materials were found in barrels and buckets buried in the ground as well as an adapted Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) pass card, a PSNI uniform and a police stab-proof vest.

The 31-year-old, who is originally from Larne in Co Antrim, faces years in jail after pleading guilty in February to preparation of terrorist acts between January 2011 and August last year, possessing images of bank cards for fraud and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.

The Old Bailey heard he researched targets and discussed plans to attack police stations and officers.

But Paul Hynes QC, defending, told the Old Bailey Maxwell was not ideologically driven and would not have used violence for a cause.

He said it was Niall Lehd, said to be a member of the Continuity IRA (CIRA), who was the “instigator” of a joint venture with Maxwell, who had “no long-lasting republican ideology”.

“(Maxwell) was in effect forced, to use his own words, to pretend to have republican sympathies he did not in fact have,” he said.

“Fear of being in way above his head was effectively what paralysed him from stopping the conduct which brings him before this court.”

Quoting Maxwell’s own words, he added: “I didn’t know who to turn to and what to do. I felt frozen and scared to make a move which would potentially reveal the life I had been leading.”

The court heard two pipe bombs were deployed after Maxwell’s arrest on August 24 last year and Mr Hynes suggested they may well have had an element of “sending him a message” to do what was expected of him.

Mr Hynes also pointed out Maxwell’s cooperation with police in leading them to some of his hides “was essentially the cork coming out of the bottle, having lived such a dangerous double life for so long”.

He said Maxwell’s “criminal terrorist associates” would now wish him “serious ill”, while the danger to him extended to his family in Northern Ireland and England.

Mr Hynes added: “We submit it is certainly possible that Mr Maxwell, rather than having some personal motive of his own was simply, through his actions, assisting others in the hope that he would be able, at some point, to get himself out of the situation in which he had become entrenched.”

The court heard he grew up as a member of a small Catholic community in Larne, a predominantly unionist/loyalist area, and suffered a serious attack at the hands of a group of older men when he was 16 years old.

Maxwell, of Exminster in Devon, was a serving Royal Marine with 40 Commando based at Norton Manor Camp in Taunton at the time of the offences and was deployed in the United States, Cyprus and the UK - but not Northern Ireland - after enlisting in 2010.

He was about to be promoted to corporal before he was discovered and discharged from the Marines.

Maxwell appeared on Friday via video link from Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes, where he sat at a desk with a laptop, making notes, wearing a white Nike t-shirt.

Mr Justice Sweeney said he would pass sentence on Monday at 12pm.