Arson campaign ‘forces PSNI officers to flee their homes’

The justice system

The justice system

Three police officers have fled their homes due to “severe threat” from a crime gang operating in mid Ulster, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors also said other members of the force were among those targeted in an intimidation campaign of arson attacks on nearly 30 cars.

Details emerged as bail was granted to a youth allegedly linked to members of the gang based in the Lurgan and Craigavon areas.

The 17-year-old, who cannot be named because of his age, faces one count of conspiracy to commit arson.

He was secretly recorded in a covert operation discussing the logistics of burning down a pub in Craigavon to intimidate its owner, it was claimed.

A judge was told the alleged plot in June last year was cancelled at the last minute.

Athough the teenager is not charged with targeting any police officers, prosecution counsel Natalie Pinkerton said he was arrested as part of the same investigation.

She told the court other men are associated with an organised criminal gang involved in arson, intimidation and the drugs supply in the greater Craigavon area.

Between April and July last year 27 cars were damaged – three of them belonging to serving PSNI officers.

The other vehicles were said to have been targeted because of their owners’ connection to the drugs trade.

Ms Pinkerton also disclosed: “As a direct result of this gang’s activity three further police officers were perceived to be under severe threat and forced to flee their homes.”

The teenage defendant had been on bail, but was returned to custody for allegedly breaking off his electronic tag following a row with his mother.

Defence counsel stressed that the case against him should not be “coloured” by the alleged offences of others.

“There may well be a wide-ranging conspiracy, there may well be drugs involved and there may well be police and civilian cars involved, but there is only one charge against my client which he denies,” he said.

Granting bail again, Mr Justice Treacy agreed to lift a ban on the teenager using social media after hearing expert evidence on how the prohibition left him feeling isolated.