Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell: From sectarian assault in Larne to pleading guilty to terrorism charges

Ciaran Maxwell pictured after being attacked by a gang in Larne in 2002, and the Larne Times' headline at the time. INLT-05-704-con
Ciaran Maxwell pictured after being attacked by a gang in Larne in 2002, and the Larne Times' headline at the time. INLT-05-704-con

This is how the Larne Times broke the news of the 2002 assault on Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell, who yesterday pleaded guilty to terror charges at the Old Bailey.

Then aged just 16, the Catholic teenager from the town’s Seacourt Estate was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital after being viciously beaten in what police described as a sectarian attack.

The terrorist cache discovered by police at Carnfunnock

The terrorist cache discovered by police at Carnfunnock

Maxwell sustained a fractured skull in the attack, which the PSNI said had followed “a number of minor incidents” in the town.

In a report at the time, Republican paper An Phoblact claimed that Mr Maxwell’s parents had felt “angry and frustrated that Catholics in Larne were under constant threat and nothing was being done about it.”

It had been claimed that Maxwell joined the Royal Marines to get away from Larne.

However, appearing via video link from Woodhill Jail at the Old Bailey on Friday, Maxwell pleaded guilty to a range of terrorism offences, including creating and maintaining terrorist hides in England and Northern Ireland to store explosive substances, explosive devices, components for explosive devices, ammunition and weapons.

Now aged 31, Maxwell, with an address at Exminster in Devon, pleaded guilty to the preparation of terrorist acts between January 2011 and August 2016.

The charge sheet stated that he had a stash of explosives in purpose-built hides in England and Northern Ireland.

He created a library of terrorism documents “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” including instructions on how to make explosives and tactics used by terrorist organisations.

He also compiled a “library of documents” such as maps, plans and lists of potential targets for a terrorist attack and images of an adapted PSNI pass card and a PSNI uniform.

The court was told that Maxwell bought chemicals and components and went on to manufacture explosives and devices.

He was also charged with possessing images of bank cards for fraud and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.

Appearing via video link before Mr Justice Sweeney, Maxwell spoke only to confirm his name and to enter guilty pleas to all charges.

He was remanded in custody, with a date for sentencing yet to be set.

Commander Dean Haydon of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command said: “This investigation resulted in a significant disruption and protected public safety by removing a large quantity of dangerous material from circulation.”

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin of the PSNI added: “The arrest and charge of Ciaran Maxwell highlights the benefits of excellent collaborative working between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Metropolitan Police and other national partner agencies. Working together, we have disrupted the activity of a dangerous individual and removed a very significant threat.”

Maxwell was arrested on August 24 last year by officers from the Metropolitan Police Service’s counter-terrorism command, supported by Avon and Somerset and Devon and Cornwall Police.

Terrorist hides were found in Carnfunnock Country Park and Capanagh Forest, while the Town Park, Old Bleach Works at Inver Road, and an area off the Old Glenarm Road were among other areas searched.

In early September, police revealed that they had found a “significant amount of terrorist material” at 12 separate locations as part of a joint operation between the PSNI and Metropolitan police.

East Antrim DUP Assembly candidate Gordon Lyons welcomed Maxwell’s guilty plea. He stated: “I hope that the law will now hand out an appropriate sentence for Mr Maxwell’s irresponsible actions. The PSNI have relentlessly sought to find out information on the republican arms dump discovered near Larne and I am pleased that someone has been brought to court on charges relating to terrorism. His actions posed a real threat to the peace within the community and he clearly held no regard for the lives of those who live here.

UUP East Antrim Assembly candidate Roy Beggs praised the collaboration between the PSNI, the Metropolitan Police, the South West Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit and the intelligence agencies.

“I am glad that the successful policing operation against dissident republican activity, that involved significant arms finds, has concluded with a guilty plea from Ciaran Maxwell,” he said.

“I hope that he will be handed a sentence that is appropriate for his reckless actions which endangered the public in NI and in GB.

“There must be a strong message sent out that anyone engaging in activity that poses a threat to life and to peace in Northern Ireland will not be tolerated.

“Questions remain to be answered as to how such military grade weapons were smuggled from his base and transported from Somerset to Capanagh Forest and to Carnfunnock Country Park outside Larne. I would appeal to the public to be vigilant and to give all possible support to the PSNI in their continued work to keep all us safe.”