A former Royal Marine Commando from the North of Ireland has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was found guilty of amassing weapons that were to be used by dissident republicans.
Ciaran Maxwell, originally from Larne, was handed a 23 year sentence after pleading guilty at the Old Bailey in February to a number of serious charges including the preparation of terrorist acts, possession of controlled drugs and possession of articles to be used for fraud.
The 32 year old received a 23 year jail term - 18 years in prison and five on licence for the preparation of terrorist acts, 18 months (to run concurrently) for drugs offences and 24 months (to run concurrently) for fraud offences.
He stored the items he needed to make the devices, the devices themselves, ammunition, weapons, tools and resources in multiple hides across Northern Ireland and England.
Across 14 of the locations involved in the investigation he had in his possession, or had constructed:
• 14 pipe bombs - four of which have been deployed in Northern Ireland.
• two anti-personnel directional mines
• two explosively formed projectiles (‘EFPs’) one with explosive fill, one without
• 29 complete firing systems and 33 initiators including two military initiators
• 13 military ‘Igniter Safety Fuse Electric’ initiators
• three fully constructed improvised detonators and other components parts for improvised explosive devices (‘IEDs’)
• He had a handgun stored in a hide in Northern Ireland.
Ciaran Maxwell had acquired sufficient quantities of materials across Northern Ireland and England to make a further 19 pipe bombs, two anti-personnel directional mines, one EFP, three victim operated torch IEDs, 34 firing systems and 76 initiators.
Police uncovered 397 rounds of ammunition subject to licensing restrictions, 137 blank rounds of ammunition, four British Army magazines, 29.27 metres of detonating cord, 5.263 metres of green burning fuse and ten timed power units, as well as large quantities of chemicals for use in manufacturing explosives and IEDs both in England and Northern Ireland.
In England, police also discovered that Ciaran Maxwell had a significant cannabis production at one site from which he intended to produce cannabis for selling.
And that he had taken images of other people’s bank cards and identity documents and intended using them in online fraud.
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin, Head of the PSNI’s Crime Operations Department, said: “Ciaran Maxwell is an extremely dangerous individual who was capable of gathering a large amount of munitions over multiple sites in Northern Ireland and England.
“The hides uncovered at Larne and surrounding areas collectively, amount to one of the most significant seizures of munitions in recent years in Northern Ireland, not to mention the further items recovered in hides in Great Britain.
“It is obvious that these materials and munitions were sourced, gathered and constructed over significant periods of time which demonstrates Ciaran Maxwell’s determination and committed planning. These items are designed to cause damage, serious injury and to kill.
“Ciaran largely worked independently but we know he had a link to a violent dissident republican grouping. It is abundantly clear from the sheer volume of weapons and component parts found that he knew they would be used and would cause serious harm.
“As a result of these finds and the arrest and sentencing of Ciaran Maxwell, there is no doubt in my mind that Northern Ireland and England are safer places to live. It is worth emphasising that a number of these lethal devices were in a state ready to be deployed.
“I would very much like to thank the members of the public who first alerted Police to the hides in both Carnfunnock and Capanagh. Without them acting on their suspicions Maxwell may not have been caught. This case clearly demonstrates the vital role communities have in support of their Police Service.
“I would also like to thank my policing colleagues in Great Britain. Through effective partnership working at a national level and the expeditious Justice process in England, a terrorist has been convicted and faces a lengthy time in prison less than 12 months after his arrest.
“Working together, we have disrupted the activity of a dangerous individual and removed a very significant threat."
He added: “While the threat level in Northern Ireland from dissident republican violence remains severe, meaning an attack is highly likely; there is limited community support and traction for terrorists. The vast majority of people want to move on from the past, enjoy living without fear and embrace the vibrant place Northern Ireland has become.
On Saturday March 5, 2016 police received a report from a man walking in Carnfunnock Forest Park of plastic barrels buried in the ground near the car park in the popular recreation spot. When recovered the barrels were found to contain Improvised Explosive Devices, component parts to make these devices along with tools and electrical equipment. There were also various chemicals which, when mixed, could have been used to form homemade explosives.
On Saturday May 14, 2016 a second hide of barrels buried in the ground was discovered at Capanagh Forest, on the Starbog Road, Larne. These also contained a large quantity of explosives, IEDs, component parts and military equipment. Again this was reported to police by vigilant members of the public.
Detective Chief Inspector Gillian Kearney, the PSNI’s Senior Investigating Officer in this case, explained: “These two hides amount to one of the most significant seizures of munitions in recent years in Northern Ireland, both in terms of size and capability.
“We were able to identify Ciaran Maxwell through DNA examination of items found and then discovered that he was a serving Royal Marine living in Exeter. At this stage an investigation began with the Metropolitan Police Service’s Counter Terrorism Command, known as SO15, which was supported by colleagues in South West Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit, as well as Avon and Somerset Police and Devon and Cornwall Police.
“Following his arrest in August 2016, additional searches took place in both Northern Ireland and Devon which uncovered further significant hides. On Sunday 28th August 2016 a large scale multi-agency search operation involving PSNI and the Military with specialist advisors commenced in Larne. This included a former quarry on the Old Glenarm Road, a former Convent, Town Park, Carnfunnock and Inver River areas resulting in finds of components parts, a weapon, chemicals, Military and PSNI uniforms.
“This was a complex case, which spanned numerous sites in various locations in Northern Ireland and England involving officers from four police services. The swift and successful prosecution of Maxwell demonstrates the impact of Police Services working closely together to disrupt terrorism.
“It is most important to acknowledge that all of this was only possible after members of the public came forward to the police with information alerting us to the presence of barrels at both Carnfunnock and Capanagh. Ciaran Maxwell had developed a sophisticated operation to facilitate stockpiling weapons, explosives, munitions and chemicals and I want to thank these people for coming forward with this information; there is no doubt in my mind that their actions have saved lives.
“These items could have been used to cause serious harm to people living in our communities and make no mistake – Ciaran Maxwell had no regard for anyone as can be seen by the fact he used these very popular public areas.
“Police will continue to work tirelessly to keep people safe from this threat and we continue to ask the community to be vigilant and to provide police with any information they have."