Northern Ireland news

PhD student charged with possession of gun and ammunition

A PhD student accused of storing a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition at his east Belfast home was targeted and preyed upon, a court has been told.

Gareth Rice claimed he had been in "extreme fear" and put under duress to keep the haul discovered in a coal bunker on Wednesday.

But police argued that the 28-year-old is a member of a loyalist flute band which has alleged links to the East Belfast UVF.

Rice, of Kilmakee Park in the Gilnahirk area, was refused bail and remanded in custody after appearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court.

He faces a single charge of possessing a firearm and ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

The double-barrelled, sawn-off shotgun and live shells were found inside a sports bag seized during searches of a shed at the rear of his house.

PSNI officers also located 24 rounds of blank ammunition and a Glock-style pistol now believed to be an imitation.

District Judge Steven Keown was told Rice raised issues of duress in a second police interview where claimed a threat of repercussions against his family.

But an investigating detective said: "He appears to be an intelligent individual, he's studying for a PhD so he would know right from wrong."

Defence lawyer Andrew Russell stressed there is no suggestion Rice is involved with any paramilitaries.

Instead, he argued, the accused was targeted because of his clear record.

Mr Russell said his client knew about the bag but never looked inside it and had been too frightened to contact the authorities.

"He was very upset in his interviews and indicated to police that he was in extreme fear," the solicitor submitted.

Rice sought release on bail to live at an alternative address in west Belfast.

"He is a man that is comfortable in that area being in a mixed marriage," Mr Russell disclosed.

Opposing his application, the detective responded: "It is in a nationalist area (and) he is a member of a loyalist flute band."

She added that photographs of that unidentified band featured on the accused's Facebook page, and referred to its alleged links to the East Belfast UVF.

Mr Russell insisted Rice should not be prejudiced by membership of a band.

"It provides the opportunity for a person like this to have been preyed upon and targeted as a candidate able to be put under duress to store these items," he suggested.

Bail was refused and Rice was remanded in custody to appear again by video-link next month.


Northern Ireland news