Robbers linked to terror gangs

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AN IRISHMAN with links to loyalist paramilitaries in Belfast was last night found guilty of orchestrating and carrying out a series of bank robberies across the west of Scotland.

Mark Sinclair, 33, a suspected former member of the Ulster Defence Force (UVF), will be sentenced next month after he was found guilty of raids on Clydesdale Banks in the Ayrshire towns of Troon and Stewarton and Dalbeattie in Kirkcudbrightshire between August and November 2002.

His co-accused, Robert Gibson, 27, and Jason Peake, 22, were also remanded in custody after they had earlier pleaded guilty at the High Court in Ayr to carrying out similar raids on Clydesdale branches in the Ayrshire towns of Newmilns and Dalry.

Sinclair, named in court as a prisoner formerly of Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland, was found guilty of robbing the Clydesdale Bank in Troon on 15 August 2002 by smashing a glass partition and vaulting the counter before threatening staff with a handgun and escaping with 5,216.

He was also found guilty of assaulting and robbing a Clydesdale cashier in the Dalbeattie branch on 24 October before fleeing with 4,059 and carrying out a third raid on the Clydesdale Bank in Stewarton, Ayrshire on November 4, escaping with 3,501.

Peake, 22, of Walton Breck Road, Anfield, Liverpool, had earlier admitted robbing the bank’s Dalry branch of nearly 10,000 on 20 September 2002, when he assaulted staff and pointed a gun at the head of worker May Sinclair.

Gibson, 27, of Stair Drive, Drongan, Ayrshire, also pled guilty to taking part in the armed robbery of the Dalbeattie branch along with Sinclair.

During the trial, the prosecution’s key witness, Derek Campbell, 28, of Drongan, Ayrshire, was accused of being a UVF member who had planned all the robberies to fund the illegal paramilitary group.

Defence counsel, Ian Hamilton, QC, also suggested in court that fellow members of the Ayr Protestant Boys’ Flute Band had helped in the raid.

Mr Campbell, who admitted being a look-out for Sinclair during the Dalry robbery, had been granted Crown immunity from prosecution.

Defending Sinclair, Mr Hamilton put it to Mr Campbell that his client was a former Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member who had been sent to Scotland to spy on the flute band and its activities. Mr Campbell denied all knowledge of this and also insisted he had no connection with the UVF or the UDA. Asked by advocate depute Sean Murphy, prosecuting, what may have been gained from spying on his flute band, Mr Campbell replied: "Maybe someone could learn what tunes we were going to play."

Strathclyde Police believe that Sinclair focused his attention on Clydesdale banks in Scotland after running out of money-making options in Belfast, where a spate of similar raids had led to the introduction of a system which sprayed robbers with a dye.

Sinclair specifically targeted the Clydesdale Bank, a sister to the Northern Bank in Ulster, because it favoured the same layout and security standards but did not use the dye system. Closed circuit television footage of the robberies shows many of the Scots raids were carried out in classic paramilitary style, with boiler-suited and baseball-cap-wearing gangs violently threatening the cashiers at gunpoint.

The judge, Lord Kingarth, deferred sentence on all three men until later this month and remanded them in custody.

Links between the UVF and sympathisers in Scotland have long been in existence. Last year two Scots were jailed for attempting to ship explosives to Northern Ireland for the UVF.

Donald Reid, from Kilsyth, and Robert Baird, 46, from Kirkintilloch, were both jailed for 11 years after they admitted conspiring to further the purposes of the UVF by transporting 11lb of explosives from Troon to Belfast. The jury at the High Court in Glasgow heard that Reid, 28, was carrying enough explosives to make ten car bombs when police stopped his vehicle near his home.

Murdo MacLeod, prosecuting, told the court that the seizure was the second biggest haul of explosives in Scotland in 30 years. Mr MacLeod also added that the UVF had a network of cells and support groups in Scotland, organised into area units.

The House of Commons Northern Ireland select committee reported recently that terrorist groups from both sides of the Belfast divide are making more than 18 million a year from drugs, alcohol and fuel smuggling. They are also involved in protection rackets, and operate on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The MPs believe that the Provisional IRA has an 8 million annual turnover from drugs, followed by the Real IRA, the Loyalist Volunteer Force and the UVF who are believed to earn over 10 million between them.