Larne feud accused allegedly ‘highly influential in UVF’ - officer tells court

The aftermath of one of the recent arson attacks in Larne
The aftermath of one of the recent arson attacks in Larne

A Larne man arrested at the weekend as part of a PSNI investigation into a “feud” in the town which has seen several arson attacks, allegedly has “highly influential” involvement in the UVF, a police officer claimed in court on Monday.

A defence barrister for 41-year-old Alan Cowan of Sallagh Park Central said his client strongly denies such a “fanciful suggestion” and said nothing was put to the accused about membership of such a group.

Cowan appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday to face two charges of possessing offensive weapons - a butterfly knife and an extendable baton.

A police officer told the court she believed she could connect the accused to the charges.

She objected to bail and claimed Cowan was in possession of the items at Sallagh Park Central around 1am on Saturday.

The officer said police went to Cowan’s home with a search warrant in relation to “information received” and Cowan arrived home in his vehicle with three other individuals.

The officer said there had been “ongoing incidents” in the Larne area including arson attacks on a hairdressing business and another incident in the town on Sunday.

She alleged the accused is “involved in the UVF” in Larne and tensions were extremely high as part of an “ongoing feud”.

She said she believed Cowan to be “highly influential” in the group and she said police would have concerns for his safety

Defence barrister Michael Ward said there were three other individuals in his client’s vehicle and the officer said they had been released on police bail.

The court heard Cowan accepted the two items found in his car were his and Mr Ward said the accused had purchased them some time previously.

He said police could not say if the weapons were to used and the officer confirmed that was the case but she said they believed it was Cowan’s “intention” to use them.

The officer said police had received a number of reports of masked people gathering outside properties in the Larne area.

Mr Ward said he took onboard concerns about what is happening at the moment in Larne and said they were clearly well-founded concerns but he said there was insufficient evidence to link any of the males in the vehicle to the attacks.

He said his client is well-regarded at his workplace where he is a forklift driver and he lives with his partner and young son and also provides for a 19-year-old pregnant step-daughter.

Mr Ward said Cowan accepted he owned the items recovered by police but said there was “a big gap to cross” before any more serious charges could be levelled against him.

The police officer said if bail was granted she would want an address outside Larne; a curfew; electronic tagging; a ban from Larne and no contact with other suspects.

District Judge Peter King released Cowan on his own bail of £500; with a similar surety from his partner to an address outside the Larne area to be agreed by police.

There is an 11pm-7am curfew; he is banned from Larne accept for travelling to work and is to have no contact with others linked to the case.

The judge said electronic tagging was not necessary as the accused will be living outside Larne.

The case has been adjourned to Ballymena Magistrates Court on April 27.