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Armagh men linked to crime gang ‘The Firm’ remanded in custody

Two Co. Armagh men, both alleged members of the organised crime gang ‘The Firm’, were remanded into custody charged with having a loaded sawn off shotgun.

Appearing at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court by videolink from police custody, Kevin Patrick John Harte (53) and 24-year-old Ben Craven spoke only to confirm they understood the respective charges against them.

Both Harte, from Callan Crescent in Armagh and Craven, from the Derryhale Road in Portadown, are jointly charged with possessing a shotgun under suspicious circumstances and aggravated vehicle theft of a silver Ford Focus on August 11, this year.

Craven is also charged with driving without insurance, failing to to stop after an accident and possessing class B cannabis on the same date.

Giving evidence to the court during contested applications for bail Detective Constable McKee said he believed he could connect both men to the charges, adding that police were objecting to bail due to fears of further offences, witness interference and a risk of flight.

“Police believe that they’re involved in a wider series of events that occurred that evening and police believe these two males are potentially part of an OCG,” the detective told the court, and further to that “police believe that they’re linked to the OCG, The Firm.”

The court heard that “wider series of events” related to a petrol bomb attack in the Barrack Hill area of Armagh in the early hours of Friday morning and turning the events surrounding the arrests of Harte and Craven, DC McKee outlined how police were conducting a welfare check at an address when officers spotted a Ford Focus with “blacked out plates”.

It drove into the estate but left again and when police went looking for it, officers spotted it parked in a lay-by but Craven “reversed backwards up the road at speed.”

The Ford Focus, which had been stolen last June, “got stuck in a ditch” and even though officers used their cars to block it in, the Focus drove straight forward and collided with a police vehicle, causing minor damage to it.

“Given the information [police had] officers had their firearms drawn to eliminate any threat,” said the detective adding that when the car was searched, police uncovered the loaded sawn off shotgun in the backseat.

Arrested and interviewed, both Harte and Craven denied any knowledge of the loaded and viable weapon in the backseat, and the court heard that both men were wearing boiler suits with rubber gardening gloves close by.

“Given the information that police are in receipt of we believe that these two males were in the area, at the address police were checking, to carry out an attack on the property,” said DC McKee.

“Police believe that had there not been an intervention that they would have attacked the property with the shotgun that they were in possession of,” claimed the officer submitting a remand into custody “is necessary to prevent harm to others.”

He further claimed that if freed, the pair are likely to “return to the area to carry out the attack”.

Under cross examination from Harte’s defence solicitor, Adrian Harvey, DC McKee agreed that four people, two men and two women, had been arrested for the petrol bombing incident but that the women had been freed on police bail.

“We believe that the females were held under duress by a couple of the males and forced to drive them around,” the officer told the solicitor, agreeing with his further suggestion the men arrested had fled across the border.

He also agreed that officers searching the Ford Focus had to “rummage around” in the backseat before the found the loaded gun as it had been “hidden under plastic”.

Philip Reid, solicitor for Craven, highlighted that he had no relevant convictions, has a good work record and argued that conditions could be attached to bail to assuage police concerns such as keeping him out of Armagh and Dungannon.

Submitting there will be significant delays as the weapon has to be sent for forensic tests, the solicitor described Craven as “quite a guileless individual” whose mother was willing to sign as surety.

District Judge Alana McSorley said however the police had “outlined very serious allegations indeed” and while the seriousness of an offence did not of itself justify refusing bail, “the court has concerns about the risk of further offending and interference with witnesses.”

Refusing bail, she remanded both men into custody to appear again on September 6.

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