Neil Lennon bomb plot pair lose appeals

Celtic manager Neil Lennon was one of the targets
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was one of the targets
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Two men who were jailed for a parcel bomb plot against Celtic manager Neil Lennon and high-profile supporters of the club have lost appeals against their convictions.

Trevor Muirhead, 44, of Kilwinning, and Neil McKenzie, 43, of Saltcoats, both North Ayrshire, were given five-year prison terms after a trial last year.

The Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh rejected claims by defence lawyers that the pair had suffered a miscarriage of justice.

Muirhead and McKenzie were charged with conspiring to murder Mr Lennon, the former MSP Trish Godman and the late QC Paul McBride.

However, the trial judge, Lord Turnbull, ruled there was insufficient evidence for the murder allegation, and the men were found guilty of a reduced charge of conspiracy to assault.

Packages had been sent to each of the intended victims, and to Cairde na hEireann (Friends of Ireland) in Glasgow, and although none was capable of exploding and causing injury, the prosecution persuaded the jury that Muirhead and McKenzie had believed they were sending viable explosive devices.

In the appeal, the men contended that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to have reached such a conclusion or, if there was technically enough evidence, no reasonable jury could have returned a guilty verdict based on it. In police interviews, the men had claimed the items were hoaxes and sent as “a laugh” or “a bit of banter”.

Lord Philip, sitting with Lord Menzies and Lady Clark, said the issue at the heart of the case was: What had the evidence demonstrated about the understanding of the men about the nature of the devices?

“The evidence which the Crown relied upon in seeking to establish this crucial element of their case came largely from things which the appellants said to other witnesses, were heard (through police surveillance) to say in discussion with each other, or said to the police at interview,” said Lord Philip.

“On behalf of the Crown, it was argued that...the jury were entitled to infer that their failure to make an explosive substance was explained by incompetence or lack of knowledge. The question of what inferences were available as to the appellants’ belief had to be considered in the light of an admitted sufficiency of evidence to demonstrate that they were engaged in a conspiracy to construct and send the packages and contents as they were found to be.”

The judges added: “The nature of the statements made by the appellants...were consistent with the belief on their part that explosions might occur, and with a desire to cause physical harm to the recipients of the packages. They had placed together materials, including peroxide, in the bottle sent to Ms Godman which, if mixed in the correct proportions, would have been capable of causing explosion or ignition. Three of the four packages tested positive for peroxide. That was consistent with an intention to cause injury and a belief that the device was capable of doing so.”

Gordon Jackson, QC, for Muirhead, had submitted that the jury could have concluded that the men created a peroxide-based explosive only to make it look as if they were serious.

“That was an inference which might have been open to the jury, but they chose to reject it. They were perfectly entitled to do so,” said Lord Philip.

“In our view, the evidence was sufficient to entitle them to draw the inference in relation to each appellant...that he believed the various parcels sent comprised an improvised explosive device which was capable of igniting or exploding, causing injury.”