Bookies theft accused ‘under duress from paramilitaries’

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A 33-year-old man who was arrested following the attempted robbery of two bookmakers in north Belfast claimed he was acting under duress from paramilitaries, a court has heard.

Paul Edward McWilliams appeared at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on six charges arising from the attempted robbery of a bookmaker’s in Union Street, and a second attempted robbery at a bookmaker’s in nearby Little Donegall Street earlier this week.

McWilliams, from Antrim Road in Belfast, was charged with two counts of attempted robbery, two counts of going equipped for theft and two counts of carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit robbery.

The court heard that both premises were targeted on Tuesday.

A police constable said police were objecting to McWilliams being released on bail, on the grounds that he claimed he was under duress from paramilitaries to carry out a number of armed robberies.

The police objection, the constable said, was that if he was released McWilliams “would come under the same pressure to commit further offences”. He also revealed that this was the only objection police had to bail.

A solicitor acting on behalf of McWilliams said that his client lived with his elderly mother who was in ill health, and that he was her “only carer”.

The solicitor also pointed out that McWilliams came before the court with a clear criminal record, and that there were no issues with either alcohol or drug abuse.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall said that given the paramilitary pressure, McWilliams was “unfortunately an easy target”. She remanded him in custody and ordered that he appear before the court again on August 5.