A former Royal Marine jailed for stockpiling an arsenal of weapons and bomb materials has turned “assisting offender” to accuse an old school acquaintance of involvement in the dissident republican terror plot, the High Court heard on Thursday.
Prosecutors revealed Ciaran Maxwell has made statements alleging Niall Lehd helped to source and construct explosives recovered from up to nine different hides in areas around their hometown of Larne.
Maxwell, 32, is serving an 18-year prison term after admitting a series of terror-related offences.
His evidence is now being relied on as part of the case against 29-year-old Lehd.
Lehd, of Seahill Road in Larne, was granted bail on charges of preparing terrorist acts, possessing explosives with intent to endanger life, and possessing documents useful to terrorism.
The alleged offences relate to the discovery of arms dumps in 2016.
Hides constructed out of plastic barrels and buried in the ground contained mines, explosive projectiles, pipe bombs, handguns and ammunition, improvised detonators, timer power units, command wires and command wires.
Police uniforms were also located in the secret storage, the court heard.
A Crown lawyer disclosed Maxwell has provided two statements under the terms of Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) in which he claims Lehd aided in amassing the arsenal of weapons.
Maxwell alleges the pair went to the same school, lived in the same estate and met up when he returned on leave from the Royal Marines.
According to his account they also constructed component parts ordered from eBay and Amazon.
A judge was told Lehd is allegedly linked to three separate pipe bombing incidents in Carnlough, north Belfast and Armagh.
“Essentially the prosecution rely on Ciaran Maxwell as an assisting offender in terms of his evidence that Niall Lehd was involved in this offending,” the prosecutor said.
Seamus Lannon, defending, disputed the assertion that the two men went to school together.
With no DNA connecting Lehd to the hides, the barrister suggested Maxell had pointed the finger at just his client in an attempt to get a reduced sentence.
“Is he raising the issue of Niall Lehd because Niall Lehd is a convenient patsy who is no danger to anyone?” the barrister asked.
“We say the credibility of Ciaran Maxwell is shot, and the Crown case here is fundamentally weak.”
Granting bail on strict conditions, Mr Justice McAlinden stressed police must be allowed to examine and search computers or internet-enabled devices at Lehd’s home.
He warned that any evidence of browser histories being cleared will be considered a breach of the release terms.