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Loyalist named in court as reported leader of UVF in blackmail case

Stephen “Mackers” Matthews was named in connection with a blackmail attempt over a drug debt owed by a businessman’s son

Stephen 'Mackers' Matthews

James Reid

East Belfast UVF mural

Belfast Magistrates' Court

Christopher WoodhouseSunday Life

REPORTED UVF chief Stephen “Mackers” Matthews has been named in court in connection with a blackmail attempt over a drug debt owed by a businessman’s son.

At Belfast Magistrates’ Court earlier today Ross Barr appeared accused of being one of three men who visited the man to demand he hand over £7,000 which his son owed to the terror gang’s east Belfast unit.

The 30-year-old, from Roslin Gardens in the Tullycarnet area of east Belfast, faces a single count over an incident at the premises of the man’s firm on October 16.

Objecting to Barr being freed on bail, a prosecution barrister told the court the alleged victim noticed a white Hyundai car belonging to Barr had parked in the yard of his business at around 1pm.

He said there were three men in the car and of the two who got out he identified one as UVF man James Reid who he recognised from press reports.

The man said Reid told him his son owed him money from drug dealing made up of a £5,000 debt and a £2,000 “fine”.

He said Reid told him he was sent to collect the money by the “Newtownards Road” and if he wanted he could check with “Mackers”.

The prosecution barrister said this was in reference to Stephen Matthews, the reported leader of the East Belfast UVF.

He said Reid told him his son had been buying cocaine in “quarters and ounces” from him but when asked he said he wasn’t dealing for the East Belfast UVF but “free wheeling”.

It’s alleged Reid told the man he didn’t want the UVF to come up to his yard, to which the man replied that it wasn’t going to happen as it “wouldn’t end well”.

Reid is then alleged to have said to the man he would “take his f*****g head off” and would “put his lights out”.

The lawyer said this was followed up by two phones calls from Reid later that day in which he threatened to “burn every car in his yard”.

He said it was Barr who owned the car in which the men arrived and there were numerous phone records linking Reid to Barr that day but Barr’s own phone is still missing.

A search of Barr’s home found £10,000 in cash which he claimed belongs to his parents with whom he lives and that it came from an inheritance and was due to pay for a new kitchen.

Barr’s solicitor told the court he voluntarily attended for interview last week in which he gave an account to police in a prepared statement.

In it Barr claimed that day an individual asked him to go to a location so he could pay money owed to him.

He said this man then asked him to drive to the alleged victim’s yard where Barr did not leave the car and was unaware of what was being said to the business owner.

Barr’s solicitor said he insists if he knew any criminal activity was due to take place he would not have driven the men there.

In his statement, Barr claims one of the men – who police say is James Reid – told him: “I didn’t get your money today but I will get it in a few days.”

He added that an identification parade had taken place and the alleged victim was not able to pick out Barr from a line-up.

Arguing that Barr, a father-of-two, should be freed on bail he said it was clear that Reid was the “main player” in the incident and there had been no contact between the pair since.

Refusing bail District Judge Amanda Henderson said it was a “very sinister incident” which had been “very threatening”.

She added that she had “real concerns” about Reid and the other man who have not yet been arrested.

Barr is due to appear in court again via videolink on November 14.

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