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Guilty plea Loyalist sex offender fined for handling stolen Sinn Fein poster at bonfire site

Police spotted Harbinson up a ladder “at a bonfire beacon” holding a SF election poster for Gary McCleave in his left hand

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Mark Harbinson

Mark Harbinson

Mark Harbinson

Orangeman and convicted sex offender Mark Harbinson was fined £350 on Tuesday for having a stolen Sinn Fein election poster, destined for an 11th night bonfire.

With a jury sworn in at Craigavon Crown Court and ready to hear evidence, Harbinson (54) had an 11th hour change of attitude and entered a guilty plea to handling the stolen SF poster on a date unknown between 1 April and 12 July 2019.

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Mark Harbinson

Mark Harbinson

Mark Harbinson

Opening the facts of the case, prosecuting counsel Nicola Auret told the court that police on patrol in Stoneyford spotted Harbinson up a ladder “at a bonfire beacon” holding a SF election poster for Gary McCleave in his left hand.

“The poster had been stolen when it had been on a lamp post for the council elections back in May that year,” said the lawyer.

She outlined how police initially drove on but returned a few minutes later and arrested Harbinson who denied being the person up the ladder.

Ms Auret said while Harbinson’s criminal record had a “variety of offences,” this was his first dishonesty offence.

In 2011 loyalist Harbinson, from the Sheepwalk Road in Stoneyford, was convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl he met when he was a leading member of the Pride of the Village Flute Band in Stoneyford and served two years behind bars.

At his trial the jury failed to reach a verdict on five other charges, including indecent assault.

He was acquitted of indecently assaulting a 12-year-old schoolboy.

Harbinson was originally caught by police with the schoolgirl in his car on 26 October 2009.

Police also found topless images of the child on his phone. Analysis of the handset showed more than 1,000 contacts between him and the young victim.

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A once prominent member of the Orange Order, and former member of the UDR, he rose to prominence during the Drumcree dispute in Portadown.

Following his conviction he was expelled from the Orange Order and in 2012, he failed to have the conviction overturned shouting "no surrender" in a courtroom outburst as the judgment was delivered.

In court on Tuesday defence counsel Craig Patton conceded that Harbinson’s past offences “don’t cover him in glory,” submitting that his “lapse of judgment” in relation to the poster was unfortunate in circumstances where there had been “positive praise” for Stoneyford where “they have a beacon rather than a bonfire.”

Imposing a £350 fine and £15 offenders levy, Judge Patrick Lynch QC told Harbinson it was obvious he didn’t have the poster “out of some interest in political memorabilia but to make a political statement at this bonfire on this evening.”

He added however “it’s not a politicised offence” and Harbinson thanked the judge and apologised to him.

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