Prominent loyalist Mark Harbinson, due to face a trial on firearms offences, is under a death threat from dissident republicans, Belfast Crown Court was told on Wednesday.
News of the threat came during an unsuccessful bail variation hearing by the 50-year-old loyalist and convicted sex offender, who wanted to amend two conditions of his bail.
While refusing the application to remove his electronic tag and scrap his 10pm to 8am curfew, Judge Patricia Smyth said it was the duty of the police to ensure that Harbinson is not at any risk of harm. Judge Smyth said that the bail conditions were both necessary and proportionate.
Harbinson, acquitted in January of possessing a 9mm Makarov pistol, a silencer and 28 rounds of 9mm ammunition with intent to endanger life, is to stand trial in June for having them under suspicious circumstances and without holding the relevant firearms certificates.
They were found in a biscuit tin during a police search of outbuildings at Harbinson’s Sheepwalk Road home in Stoneyford in December 2015.
On Wednesday his defence barrister initially told the court the bail conditions were proving difficult in Harbinson’s attempts at rebuilding his relationship with his wife and child. They were also interfering with his helping on the farm of his elderly parents who need his assistance.
The lawyer who added that Harbinson was continually looking at his watch to insure he is home by 10pm each evening, then revealed that police had recently informed him he was under a death threat from dissident republicans and that he should review his security.
This too, said counsel, also presented its difficulties because anyone wanting Harbinson would know where he will be each night during the hours of his curfew.
Opposing the bail variations, Crown Counsel said they were proportionate, as Harbinson had not only shown an ability to acquire a large sum of money at short notice and flee to England, where he was initially arrested by police ten days later, they were also necessary to insure he was following the conditions of his bail.
The lawyer said that police had already offered Harbinson a flexibility on the times he has to sign for his bail so no pattern could be formed with respect to that.
The lawyer added that for a number of years Harbinson had been a high profile figure and those wishing him harm know where he is and have done so for years.
Harbinson was originally jailed for sexually abusing a 13-year-old school girl in October 2009. That conviction is currently before the Criminal Cases Review Commission.