Prominent loyalist and convicted sex offender Mark Harbinson has been remanded into custody charged with having a semi automatic pistol, bullets and a silencer.
Harbinson (48) from the Sheepwalk Road in Lisburn, is accused of having a Makarov 9 ml semi automatic pistol, 28 rounds of suitable ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life “on a date unknown prior to December 21 2015.”
Giving evidence to Lisburn Magistrates Court this morning, Detective Sergeant Cush said he believed he could connect Harbinson to the offences and that police were objecting to bail amid fears that he posed a serious risk of flight.
The officer from the serious crime branch of the PSNI described how, acting on information, police searched Harbinson’s home under the terrorism act on December 21, discovering the disassembled weapon, bullets and the working silencer hidden in a family circle tin of biscuits in an out building.
He recounted how Harbinson himself was not present during the extensive search but that his father and uncle, who attended the farm during it, told Harbinson police were searching his home, leading Harbinson to flee, firstly to the Republic of Ireland and then to Cumbria.
Initially, there had been a “tentative arrangement” for Harbinson to hand himself in the following day but he failed to appear at Musgrave Street station and DS Cush told the court how colleagues spotted Harbinson’s Vauxhall Vectra on the motorway but it drove off at speed.
“The next day it would appear that Mr Harbinson, assisted by someone else, was able to make his way to the outlet centre in Banbridge and from there to the Republic of Ireland,” claimed the officer, adding that he stayed in the Republic until December 27 when he took a ferry from Dublin to Holyhead before travelling to an address in Cumbria.
DS Cush said the PSNI and Cumbria police raided that address at 6am on New Years Eve but that “it would appear that something had disturbed him at that place and he again made off from police.”
A search of a mobile home at that property uncovered Harbinson’s passport, a bag of clothes and between £3,000 and £5,000 in Bank of England £20 notes, and his travel itinerary from Dublin to Cumbria.
He told the court that a police negotiator had been speaking to Harbinson on the phone, who by this time was some 25 miles away leading to the defendant eventually handing himself in.
The officer contended however that Harbinson only handed himself in “when he realised that he had no shoes, no clothes, limited funds and no passport.”
The court heard that Harbinson claimed he had not been driving his car when it had been spotted on the motorway and that he “collected” Bank of England notes as a matter of habit.
DS Cush said police were objecting to Harbinson being released on bail because “he would not abide by any conditions and would likely flee the country,” adding that by fleeing to Cumbria he had breached the terms of a court imposed sexual offences prevention order.
That SOPO was put in place after Harbinson was convicted of engaging in sexual activity with a girl aged between 13 and 16 years old and he is on licence until October this year as a result of that conviction, the court heard.
Under cross examination from defence barrister Craig Patton, DS Cush confirmed that while DNA and fingerprints testing has yet to be conducted, the gun was a working firearm and the silencer also functioned.
The officer told the lawyer that although Harbinson claimed during police questioning never to have seen or touched the biscuit tin, “he could not explain how his thumbprint was on the inside of the box.”
Mr Patton described how Harbinson had held a barbecue in the summer which had been attended by around 100 people, claiming that “he has no control of where are they go when they are there” and further submitting that it is of no great surprise that he had easy access to clothes, money and his passport as “it is fairly public knowledge that he would have a lot of enemies.”
Conceding that Harbinson faces “an extremely serious charge” and that his fleeing was “stupidity and its highest form,” Mr Patton submitted that he could be released on bail albeit subject to the most stringent conditions.
Refusing bail however, District Judge Amanda Henderson said she had “real concerns” that Harbinson would again flee the jurisdiction given that he had “immediate access to a passport, stash of clothing and a large sum of money” and “immediately went on the run” when he discovered that police were searching his home.
Harbinson was remanded into custody to appear again on January 25 via videolink.