Lawyers for convicted Stoneyford sex offender Mark Harbinson, currently charged with damaging road signs, are to apply to have the criminal damage case dismissed, a judge heard on Monday.
Defence barrister Craig Patton told District Judge Rosie Watters he would be applying to have the charge of criminal damage dismissed by an abuse of process application, this based on the argument that Harbinson had been wrongly charged.
Prominent loyalist Harbinson, currently in Magilligan prison, is accused of causing criminal damage to a speed-limit road sign by painting it red, white and blue last September.
Mr Patton said he would be submitting that Harbinson should have been charged under article 87 of the roads order where it “specifically refers to painting structures on the road” instead of criminal damage, “which carries a much higher penalty.”
However, a prosecuting lawyer told the court the PPS maintained “that criminal damage applies in this case” so Judge Watters listed the defence application to be heard on July 4.
Harbinson, from Sheepwalk Road, is also in custody accused of having a Makarov pistol last January.
The 48-year-old had been held in the maximum security prison at Maghaberry but it’s understood he was tranferred to the sex offenders wing at Magilligan when the authorities revoked the licence - due to expire in October - put in place after Harbinson was jailed for sexually molesting a child he knew through a local loyalist flute band.
Harbinson, who continues to maintain his innocence, was released from jail in May 2013 after he was convicted of abusing the 13-year-old girl in January 2011.
Six months ago he was accused of having a Makarov 9mm semi-automatic pistol, 28 rounds of suitable ammunition and a silencer, with intent to endanger life “on a date unknown prior to 21 December 2015.”
Giving evidence at that stage, Detective Sergeant Cush said he believed he could connect Harbinson to the offences and that police were objecting to bail amid fears that the defendant posed a serious risk of flight as he had previously fled to the Republic and then to England when he knew police were seeking him.
The officer from the PSNI’s serious crime branch said that on December 21 last year, acting on information, police searched Harbinson’s home under the terrorism act, discovering the disassembled weapon, bullets and the working silencer hidden in a biscuit tin in an outbuilding.
He recounted how Harbinson himself was not present during the extensive search but that his father and uncle, who were in attendance, told Harbinson police were searching his home, after which he fled the country, first 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 sped off when the driver spotted police.
“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 Harbinson 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 “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 £3,000-£5,000 in Bank of England £20 notes as well as his travel itinerary from Dublin to Cumbria.
The court heard a police negotiator had been speaking by phone to Harbinson - by this time some 25 miles away - and the defendant subsequently handed 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 during police interviews 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 hobby.