Robbery bid: Man is remanded

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A CONVICTED murderer appeared in court on Monday charged with the attempted robbery of delivery drivers outside a Domino’s pizza takeaway which is situated just yards from a police station.

Keith Mawhinney (36) from the Drumtara estate in Ballymena, appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court and was remanded in custody in connection with an attempted hold-up at Smithfield Place close to Ballymena Police Station on Friday night.

He is charged with the attempted robbery of three people and possession of a firearm/imitation firearm to commit an offence.

A police officer told the court he believed he could connect Mawhinney to the charges.

The accused said he understood the charges.

The police officer objected to bail and said at 11pm on Friday two delivery drivers and a passenger in one of their vehicles were approached by a man in a balaclava who pointed a gun at them and demanded money but after no money was handed over he ran off.

Later, Mawhinney was stopped by police at Larne Street in Ballymena wearing a beanie hat which turned out to be a balaclava and he had a gun in the small of his back.

The officer said Mawhinney is currently out on licence after being jailed for life along with his father for a murder in England. He said Keith Mawhinney was released from jail in 2011.

The officer said a witness had seen Mawhinney loitering around the area of Domino’s and believed that was the man who later carried out the attempted robbery.

The policeman said officers believe the weapon used is an imitation firearm but that it is has not been officially examined yet.

Defence barrister Aaron Thompson said Mawhinney is denying the offences.

Making reference to the murder conviction he said it involved an incident he and the accused’s father were involved in at a house.

Mr Thompson said Keith Mawhinney’s sister is terminally ill and he would like to be released on bail to be able to spend time with her.

Refusing bail, District Judge Liam McNally said on the face of it there was a strong case against the accused and said he was stopped matching the description of the person who carried out the offence and had a firearm and is also on licence for murder.

He believed there would be a risk of further offences and a risk of Mawhinney not turning up to court if released.

Mawhinney was remanded in custody to appear at Ballymena Magistrates Court in February.

Hartlepool man Anthony Clark was murdered by father and son John and Keith Mawhinney at his home in the English town in 1998.

Mawhinney was jailed in 1999 along with his dad for beating Mr Clark (33) to death with a pickaxe handle.

Mr Clark was killed in his Milton Road home after the Mawhinneys believed he had stolen a ring belonging to the dead sister of John Mawhinney s wife.

At the time of the murder, John “Jake” Mawhinney was still on licence from a 13-year prison term for loyalist paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.

In 2013 Mawhinney and his father failed to overturn their murder convictions.

The Appeal Court in London ruled circumstantial evidence alone had been enough for a Teesside Crown Court jury to convict them. A third man - said to have lured Mr Clark’s wife Shirley out of the flat so that the “punishment beating” could commence - was convicted of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and jailed for four years.

Prosecutors claimed the Mawhinneys caused fatal injuries after beating their victim with pick handles. The attack was said to have been retribution for a burglary of Mawhinney senior’s flat.

Mr Clark never regained consciousness and died the following day.

Lawyers for the father and son argued their murder convictions were “unsafe” as they were based on the “deeply flawed” testimony of police informant Zeiff Payne who claimed during the Mawhinneys’ trial that both men admitted to him their roles in the killing.

Mr Payne had told the jury the Mawhinneys confessed to him after the killing that “Mr Clark was like a jellyfish when they left him” and that they had “broken every bone in his body”.

Edward Fitzgerald QC - for Mawhinney junior - described Mr Payne’s evidence as “inherently unreliable”. But Lord Justice Auld, sitting with Mr Justice Henriques and Mr Justice Beatson, rejected claims that the trial judge should have directed the jury to ignore Mr Payne’s testimony.

And he ruled that, even without Mr Payne’s testimony, the jury would have been entitled to convict the Mawhinneys of murder on the basis of the circumstantial evidence alone.

Lord Justice Auld said the criminal justice system prizes juries “for their grasp of reality and application of good common sense” - and that was exactly what the jurors had done in this case.

He concluded: “We are satisfied of the safety of both verdicts and we dismiss these appeals”.