Prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson, who is facing trial later this year on firearms and ammunition offences, was granted bail today (Thursday).
After spending over a year in custody, the 50-year-old, from Sheepwalk Road, Stoneyford, was released by a Crown Court judge who imposed stringent conditions - one of which is to have no contact with a male relative who the Crown believe helped him flee to England following a police search at his home.
Harbinson is due to stand trial this April on three offences linked to the discovery of a pistol, silencer and bullets in a biscuit tin found in outbuildings at the property.
He has been charged with possessing the .9mm Makarov pistol, a silencer and 28 rounds of .9 ammunition in suspicious circumstances on December 21, 2015. He is also facing a charges of possessing both the firearm, and the ammunition, without holding a relevant Firearms Certificate.
The Co Antrim man has denied all the offences levelled against him, whilst a charge of possessing the firearm and bullets with intent to endanger life was withdrawn last month.
Following his arrest in England in January 2016, Harbinson has made several unsuccessful applications for bail. The PSNI’s main objection has been the risk of flight, as Harbinson fled across the water following the search of his home.
He is believed to have travelled from the Republic to England by ferry and was arrested in Cumbria in January 2016 trying to flee from a caravan.
Launching a fresh application for bail today, Harbinson’s barrister Mark Mulholland said there was now a change of circumstances, given that the most serious charge his client had initially faced has been withdrawn.
Telling Judge Geoffrey Miller QC that if released Harbinson would abide by any conditions imposed, Mr Mulholland said both Harbinson and his parents could offer cash sureties. He also revealed that if Harbinson was released, he would live with his parents in Stoneyford.
The defence barrister said that while Harbinson did have a criminal record, there was “nothing in his background indicative of this type of offence”, adding: “At this juncture, he enjoys the presumption of innocence.”
Mr Mulholland concluded his application by telling the court that any concerns over flight could be combatted by “stringent conditions” which Harbinson would comply with.
When asked the Crown’s position on Harbinson’s release, prosecutor Gareth Purvis said the “central issue” remained that of a risk of flight.
Pointing out that Harbinson is still facing serious firearms offences, Mr Purvis also expressed concerns that Harbinson would associate with a male relative who the Crown believe helped him to flee last year following the discovery of the gun in the barn.
After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, Judge Miller granted bail and imposed a host of conditions.
Harbinson has been banned from having any contact - either physical or via electronic communication - with the male relative. He was ordered to provide “personal bail” of £1,000, with an additional £4,000 cash surety provided by his parents.
He has also been ordered to abide by a 10pm to 8am curfew, and to report on a daily basis to the PSNI.
Judge Miller said: “Once the defendant has signed the bail, he can be released to the care of his parents.”