Northern Ireland news

Winston Irvine granted bail as court hears loyalist is not forensically linked to guns and ammunition in his car

Prominent loyalist Winston 'Winkie' Irvine

Leading loyalist Winston Irvine is to be released from custody on charges of having a bag of guns and ammunition, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice O’Hara granted bail to the 47-year-old after being told he is not forensically linked to the holdall recovered from the boot of his car.

Irvine was arrested after police seized the weapons in Belfast last month.

The accused, of Ballysillan Road in the city, faces charges of possessing a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances, possessing a prohibited firearm, possession of a handgun without a certificate, and having ammunition without a certificate.

A second man, Robin Workman, from Shore Road in Larne, Co Antrim, is currently in custody on similar counts.

Police claim Workman, a 51-year-old joiner, transported the haul of guns in his van to a meeting with his co-accused in the Glencairn area on June 8.

Following an alleged interaction between the two men, Irvine’s car was stopped a short time later at Disraeli Street.

Officers discovered two suspected pistols, an air gun, magazines and more than 200 rounds of ammunition inside a leather Calvin Klein holdall in the boot of the vehicle, according to the prosecution.

Irvine denied knowing anything about the contents of the bag.

It was initially claimed that he may be connected to a mixed DNA profile on a handle of the holdall.

But in court today prosecution counsel disclosed: “More detailed testing has excluded him as a possible contributor.

“There are no DNA findings in respect of Mr Irvine, however the bag was found in his boot.”

Opposing bail, she set out how police found £3,000 in cash, a black balaclava and alleged paramilitary memorabilia in his house.

“There were UVF framed photographs, one of which was recovered from Mr Irvine’s office sitting beside family photographs,” the barrister said.

Along with 13 badges, police also located a handmade and previously unseen gold chain with a ‘B Company’ inscription.

Some pins and badges included references to murdered UVF commander Trevor King and Brian Robinson, a member of the paramilitary group shot dead by British soldiers.

Another marked the 100th anniversary of the West Belfast UVF, the court was told.

With Irvine previously described by his lawyer as a “renowned peace builder”, police disputed suggestions that he held discussions with Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton about decommissioning weapons on the day before the seizure.

In court today the prosecution was asked if it contested assertions that he is in regular contact with the PSNI on a range of issues.

Counsel replied: “There is a statement from ACCC Singleton which does touch upon that there is contact between the two.

“Certainly not in relation to these offences whatsoever, but there is contact between the two in relation to other avenues. That is accepted.”

During the hearing Mr Justice O’Hara cited an acknowledgement from a former chair of Northern Ireland’s Policing Board about the contribution made by Irvine.

He also noted a December 2021 message from Northern Ireland Office Minister Conor Burns which indicated a “willingness to continue entering dialogue with Mr Irvine about various issues”.  

With defence barrister Joe Brolly confirming the loyalist will allow police access to his phone, the judge decided to grant bail.

“Whatever the risks that the police are concerned about, I think that can be managed by conditions,” he said.

Irvine must put up a £10,000 cash surety, report to police three times a week and is limited to having one mobile phone, the judge ordered.

He is to be allowed internet access after counsel argued that it was required for a “sensitive” process he is involved in.

“A witness attended today who had asked to give evidence anonymously to the court,” Mr Brolly added.

“There is going to be a publication once Mr Irvine is released - that was delayed - which might have fundamental importance in our society as a whole.” 

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