THE two men convicted of conspiring to assault the Celtic manager Neil Lennon and other high- profile supporters of the club in a parcel bomb plot engaged in “an act of violence against Scottish society”, prosecutors have claimed.
Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie were yesterday found guilty of sending devices they believed would injure Mr Lennon, as well as former MSP Trish Godman, the late Paul McBride, QC, and those working for the republican organisation Cairde Na hEireann.
After the guilty verdict was delivered at the High Court in Glasgow yesterday, the Celtic manager said the case had been an “ordeal which no-one should have to endure”.
A jury found Muirhead and McKenzie guilty of conspiring to assault, after a charge of conspiring to murder was thrown out due to insufficient evidence.
McKenzie was also convicted of posting an item to Mr Lennon at Celtic Park with the intention of making him believe it was likely to explode or ignite and cause injury or damage to property. Muirhead was cleared of that charge after the jury returned a not proven verdict.
Last night, Det Chief Superintendent John Cuddihy of Strathclyde Police, who led the investigation, said: “Muirhead and McKenzie have been found guilty of the most cowardly and reckless of crimes.
“They had no thought for the very many people in the postal service and administrative offices who may have been injured or maimed by handling these packages.
“Muirhead and McKenzie’s deplorable actions were motivated by hatred, and today’s prosecution sends out a strong message that this has no place in a modern Scottish society. Their actions certainly have nothing to do with football and everything to do with mindless hate.”
District procurator-fiscal Liam Murphy added: “This was not about football – it was an act of violence against Scottish society as a whole, and impacted across the UK.”
A jury of 11 women and four men took almost two and a half hours to find the pair guilty by majority verdict of the conspiracy to assault charge and McKenzie by unanimous verdict for sending another suspicious package to Mr Lennon, following a five-week trial. The pair had denied the charges.
Muirhead, 44, from Kilwinning, and McKenzie, 42, from Saltcoats, both Ayrshire, who previously had only motoring offences between them, were told by judge Lord Turnbull they had been convicted of “unusual and serious offences”. They will be sentenced on 27 April.
The case against the men centred on five suspicious packages, two of them addressed to Mr Lennon, which were discovered last spring.
None of the devices sent was viable, the court heard, but prosecutors argued both accused believed four of them were capable of exploding or igniting.
During the course of the investigation, McKenzie had told police he knew how to make a hoax bomb after watching an episode of TV show The A-Team.
He and Muirhead were caught by police after officers bugged McKenzie’s mother’s Motability car.
Last night, Mr Lennon described the ordeal as “a very stressful and difficult time”.
He added: “Clearly, I am glad that it is over. I am sure I also speak for Trish and Paul’s family when I say I am glad this period is over. This has been an ordeal which no-one should have to endure.”
Celtic’s chief executive, Peter Lawwell, added: “No-one could imagine the pressures that this man [Mr Lennon] has been under during the past two years. He has coped with this particular episode, last year’s assault and the, at times, seemingly unrelenting attacks from many quarters.
“In my opinion, no-one in Scottish footballing history has had to contend with this level of pressure whilst trying to do their job.
“Neil Lennon is someone who has shown tremendous strength of character and resilience, and we will continue to support Neil in any way we can.”
The first package found, which was intended for Mr Lennon at Celtic Park, was described in court as a hoax nail bomb and was discovered by a postman on 4 March last year.
Later that month, a second parcel meant for the Celtic boss at the club’s training ground in Lennoxtown, East Dunbartonshire, came to light.
Two days later, on 28 March, a package delivered to Ms Godman’s constituency office in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, sparked the evacuation of the building.
Jurors heard that liquid inside a plastic bottle within the package had tested positive for the explosive substance triacetone triperoxide.
On the same day as the package was delivered to the former MSP, a package destined for Cairde Na hEireann in Glasgow was in the postal system.
A postman had tried to deliver it to the republican organisation at the Gallowgate on March 28. After failed attempts to do so then and on the following day, it was sent to Royal Mail’s National Returns Centre in Belfast.
The package was X-rayed and found to contain nails, a watch component, a bottle and a wire. It was also said to hold potentially explosive peroxide.
The following month, a Royal Mail delivery driver found a suspicious package addressed to Mr McBride at the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh. It contained a bottle of petrol.
Police bugged McKenzie’s car, in which a man identified as him was secretly recorded saying he had told someone how to make a bomb.