Loyalist Mark Harbinson fails in bail bid

Mark Harbinson
Mark Harbinson

A banner for an outlawed grouping seized along with a gun from the home of a prominent loyalist was being kept as a collector’s item, the High Court heard on Friday.

Mark Harbinson bought the Orange Volunteers’ standard after it was flown during the Drumcree marching dispute 20 years ago, his lawyer claimed.

Harbinson, 49, faces a weapons charge linked to the discovery of a semi-automatic pistol, silencer, bullets and balaclavas during searches at his Sheepwalk Road address in Lisburn.

His latest bid to secure bail was refused amid police fears he could flee again if released.

Harbinson denies a charge of possessing a firearm, 28 rounds of ammunition and a silencer with intent to endanger life.

He was detained in England 10 days after the seizures were made on December 21 last year.

Police discovered the disassembled pistol, silencer and bullets inside a biscuit tin in the rafters of a barn at his home.

A shebeen-style drinking bar was said to contain items associated with the Orange Volunteers, including a banner for the proscribed loyalist grouping.

Harbinson, who rose to prominence for speeches made during protests at the ban on Orangemen parading from Drumcree Church in Portadown, was not present during the searches.

Later that day armed response police attempted to stop a car belonging to him on country roads between Moira and Lisburn, the court heard.

The pursuit reached speeds of more than 100mph, with the vehicle forcing other motorists off the road, according to the prosecution.

Harbinson later denied being behind the wheel, claiming to have lent his car to a diesel fitter who he declined to identify.

It was alleged that he crossed the border after someone brought him his passport, clothes and £7,000 in cash.

From there he travelled to England to stay with friends in Cumbria, the court heard.

Cumbrian police, backed by PSNI officers, launched an operation to arrest him on New Year’s Eve.

Specialist firearm teams and a police negotiator were drafted in as part of the efforts to detain him.

The former Orangeman was said to have escaped as officers moved in, before finally being captured 12 miles away.

Although he previously served a prison sentence for an unrelated offence, his licence was revoked due to the fresh allegations against him.

With his period behind bars on licence due to expire at the end of October, he was seeking court permission to obtain temporary home leave next month.

Opposing the application for limited bail, prosecutor Kate McKay contended: “That would give him an opportunity to flee.”

Defence counsel Craig Patton claimed Harbinson left Northern Ireland while suffering depression and fearing for his safety.

“He effectively had a getaway bag packed because he thought he would come under the scrutiny of some of the elements in the community who would wish him harm,” the barrister said.

Questioning the charge against his client, Mr Patton argued the weapon was not capable of being fired.

“The gun was falling apart, it was rusted,” he said.

Rejecting prosecution claims that financial documents linked to a proscribed organisation were found, he insisted the only papers seized related to a local flute band.

Referring to the Orange Volunteers standard, counsel added: “That banner was purchased by him (Harbinson) at Drumcree in 1996 and would be considered something of a collectors item due to the fact it was flown at Drumcree.”

But refusing bail, Mr Justice Deeny pointed out: “It’s not merely an apprehension that he may flee, but based on the fact he did flee before.”