Northern Ireland news

Co Antrim men linked to UDA feud who plotted to buy guns and drugs on 'dark web' are jailed

 Darren Bennett (left), Thomas Morgan (centre) and Scott Colin McMurran (right)

TWO Co Antrim men linked to a UDA feud who were involved in separate plots to buy guns and drugs over the 'dark web' have been jailed, while a man who helped facilitate part of a deal was freed.

Belfast Crown Court heard that the plots came undone because Darren Bennett (23), who was handling the negotiations, was unaware he was dealing with two undercover police officers when he turned up dressed in his pyjamas to a meeting a shopping centre.

Bennett, of Church Road, Newtownabbey, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess two Glock pistols, 20 rounds of ammunition and attempted possession of cocaine and MDMA in February last year, was jailed for 20 months plus a further 28 months on licensed parole.

Given the same sentence was 42-year-old Thomas Morgan, of Burnside Road, Doagh, for conspiracy to possess the firearms to "enable another person to cause a person to believe or fear unlawful violence would be used against them''.

Scott Colin McMurran (26), of Highvale Gardens, Belfast, who admitted helping Bennett gather £1,990 to buy the Class A drugs, was freed on 18 months probation after agreeing to complete the maximum of 100 hours community service.

He had provided £300 of his own money which was added to £1,600 from Bennett.

Last week the court heard that Morgan had directed Bennett to try to buy the guns but at one point pulled out of the deal fearing they were being "cheated'' by the suppliers as they could not test fire the weapons before purchase.

At this point Bennett, unaware he was talking to undercover PSNI officers, enlisted the help of McMurran to help him to put up money, to buy a Glock 19 pistol for £2,000 and later a Glock 17 for £990.

Defence counsel Eilis McDermott told Judge Desmond Marrinan that McMurran thought he was buying drugs. In a handwritten note given to police at interview, he said: "I had no part in any attempt to possess a firearm.''

Darren Bennett (23), of Church Road, Newtownabbey, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess two Glock pistols, 20 rounds of ammunition and attempted possession of cocaine and MDMA

The court heard that Bennett, who has drugs convictions, was arrested by covert officers when he turned up late, dressed in his pyjamas, at Belfast's Yorkgate shopping centre.

Police later recovered a parcel of cocaine and MDMA from Carrick Post office addressed to him. the drugs had a combined value of £4,000.

Defence barrister Mark Farrell described Bennett's actions as "amateurish, unsophisticated and lacking any real strategy''.

A prosecution lawyer said text messages between Morgan and Bennett showed that Morgan was keen to make sure that the "firearms were in working order''.

"We say it was apparent from the exchanges that the attempt to possess the firearms was in the context of the ongoing feud in Carrickfergus at the time."

Morgan's defence counsel Grey Berry said not only had he failed in an attempt to act as a "mediator'' in the Carrick feud, he also ended up with death threats.

"As a result, he took steps to protect himself and to quote an Americanism, 'that was the bottom line'.''

Describing Morgan as someone with a low IQ, the lawyer added: "You are not dealing with a Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes."

Detective Inspector Lynne Knox from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force welcomed the sentencing, saying they believed the weapons "may have been destined for use by the South East Antrim UDA".

“These men were attempting to bring lethal weapons and drugs onto our streets. Guns are used for one purpose only and that is to kill and maim. There is no reason to justify why anyone would want to bring guns into our communities which pose a threat to everyone."

Police said they believe the weapons and ammunition may have been destined for use by the South East Antrim UDA

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