Police fear ‘lives will be lost’ in Larne feud

Stephen Paul Lynch arrives at Antrim Magistrates' Court
Stephen Paul Lynch arrives at Antrim Magistrates' Court

Police have a real fear that “lives will be lost” in the ongoing feud in Larne, a PSNI officer has said.

The revelation came at Antrim Magistrates’ Court where 35-year-old Stephen Paul Lynch was charged with an arson attack last Sunday.

Objecting to his release on bail, a detective constable claimed he was “involved in the UVF” and revealed that police had “real fears that if released lives will be lost”.

Standing in the dock wearing a grey T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, factory worker Lynch confirmed that he understood the four charges against him.

Lynch, from Shanlea Drive in Larne, is charged with committing arson with intent to endanger the lives of Bill Russell and Gillian Burnett at a house on the Killyglen Road in the harbour town, wasting police time by making a false report, intimidation of Ms Burnett and two children, and making a threat to kill Mr Russell, all alleged to have occurred on April 23.

He is the second man with alleged links to the UVF in Larne to appear in court this week after Alan Cowan, 41, was granted bail at Coleraine court on Monday accused of having a butterfly knife and an extendable baton.

Lynch’s charges arise after his silver Peugeot 206 car was driven into the house and then set on fire causing significant damage to the house and gutting the car in what has been described as an “ongoing feud” in Larne.

Two other men aged 23 and 32, who were also arrested after the attack, have been released on police bail pending further inquiries.

Lodging what turned out to be an unsuccessful bail application, defence barrister Neil Moore revealed that Lynch accepted using his own car in the arson attack but denied intimidation and making threats to kill, conceding that he faces the prospect of an “undoubted” jail sentence.

A PSNI detective constable told the court that Sunday’s incident was the culmination of a “catalogue of incidents” involving Mr Russell, who claims he saw Lynch and other men close to his property in the days leading up to the arson attack when they allegedly made hand gestures suggesting the firing of a gun.

Lynch himself is alleged to have threatened him “you’re f****** dead Russell”.

In relation to the incident itself, the detective told the court police had seized CCTV footage which showed Lynch “driving his car into the front of the property” and then getting out of the crashed car.

“He appears unsteady on his feet and he disappears off screen but returns and appears to shout at the property and kicks the front window,” said the officer, adding that he then sets fire to his own jacket in the front passenger footwell.

Five minutes after police received a call about the fire, Lynch called police to report his car had been stolen, she told the court.

Turning to what the officer described as a “catalogue of incidents,” she described how the couple had had their cars set on fire, there had been masked men watching their home and threatening gestures had been made towards them.

The officer revealed that Lynch is likely to face separate charges arising from him “creating a scene” at Antrim Area Hospital when he allegedly assaulted two police officers and had to be subdued using CS spray.

The detective said police also had concerns about Lynch’s own safety and under cross-examination from Mr Moore, conceded the defendant had been served with a “PM1 form” threat against his life.

She also conceded there was “no evidence” to link Lynch to any other arson attack, and that while there is no formal statement about it, Lynch’s solicitor had claimed Mr Russell had “brandished either a live firearm or imitation firearm” at the defendant.

Mr Moore said that by committing this arson attack, the father of two would inevitably go to prison and will also lose his job at Caterpillar, further revealing that his wife has lost her job as a result of this feud and has left her home town because of the threat.

Deputy District Judge Peter Prenter refused bail on the grounds of the risk of further offences and interference with witnesses.

Lynch is due to appear before Ballymena court on May 18 via video link.