A Coleraine man appeared in court on Saturday (April 16) accused of having a fully loaded, sawn off shotgun police believe is linked to north Antrim UDA.
Despite police objections to bail, District Judge Peter King said he was 'absolutely astonished' to hear the PSNI would not pay for overtime for an officer involved in the investigation to come to court to testify about any intelligence background.
“That is absolutely ridiculous,” declared the judge who said without “any evidence to links to an organisation…there’s a presumption of bail” in favour of 44-year-old David Morrell.
Appearing at Ballymena Magistrates Court by videolink from police custody, Morrell was charged with three offences allegedly committed on April 13 and 14 this year including possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life in addition to having the shotgun and five cartridges under suspicious circumstances.
Giving evidence to the court, Det. Const. Gibson outlined how police searched Morrell’s home in the Ballysally estate and when they told him what they were looking for, 'he made them aware that there was a firearm in the kitchen, in a hold all, under some cushions.'
He described how rather than a normal double barrelled shotgun, the item seized was a fully loaded, breach loading weapon which had been adapted to carry five rather than three cartridges, adding that it was ready for use with 'one in the breach and four in the magazine.'
A further search of his home uncovered several loyalist paramilitaries flags including the UDA and UFF and while the officer said detectives will be seizing nearby CCTV footage to investigate Morrell’s claims, the weapon is to be forensically tested to see if it can be linked with any paramilitary style attacks.
Arrested and interviewed Morrell claimed he had found the weapon in a bag on his way home from work the day before and had 'panicked' when he saw what was contained in the hold all.
Objecting to bail, DC Gibson said police believe the gun 'is linked to north Antrim UDA' and could potentially have been used by the proscribed organisation, adding that given it’s seizure, there could be 'reprisals from that group' directed at Morrell.
Under cross examination from defence solicitor John Burke, the officer conceded that Morrell had been arrested for membership of a proscribed organisation but was 'released unconditionally' in relation to that aspect of the investigation.
“This is a bizarre case,” the solicitor told District Judge Peter King, “to keep a modified weapon, loaded, in his own property is madness because anybody who knows anything about firearms would not leave a loaded weapon in their house.”
Mr Burke said that according to Morrell neither his prints nor his DNA will be found on the weapon, submitting that with no convictions for violence and a bail address in Ballycastle, that the defendant could be freed.
DJ King said the unusual nature of the weapon 'is causing me concern…I don’t think I have ever come across a fully loaded, breach loaded, magazine operated shotgun before' and asked the detective what were the alleged links to the UDA and the background intelligence.
“It’s not my investigation so I’m sorry but I don’t know,” conceded DC Gibson, “the team who were dealing with it have not been able to send an investigating officer” and he expressed surprise that given the successful nature of the search that “they would not pay overtime for a leading officer” to come to court.
Incredulous at that, DJ King said while he appreciated the officer’s frankness, “I’m astonished, absolutely astonished” at the stance of the police.
“I don’t know the background that goes into the search but I have to deal with the evidence and as the police are not in a position to do that, I’m granting bail,” declared the judge, “if there had been an IO before me there may well have been a different outcome.”
Freeing Morell on his own bail of £750 with a surety of £750, DJ King ordered him to reside at Ramoan Close in Ballycastle, to observe a curfew, he electronically tagged and to report to police twice a week.
The case was adjourned to 25 April.