Judge denies LVF leader's pistol appeal revoked

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The Independent Online
A MAN described in court as leader of the Loyalist Volunteer Force sought to secure hisrelease yesterday on the grounds that a gun used in a recent shooting incident was covered by an official arms decommissioning certificate.

Mark Fulton was refused bail in the Northern Ireland High Court, the judge telling him that the ordinary law had to run its course.

Fulton is charged with possessing a firearm and ammunition with intent to endanger life in the early hours of Saturday, 5 December, in Portadown.

He was named in court as leader of the LVF, the group headed by Billy "King Rat" Wright until his murder by republicans a year ago.

Mr Fulton's bail application was based on the assertion that he possessed a certificate issued by the Northern Ireland decommissioning body, which is headed by the Canadian General John de Chastelain. Such certificates are meant to give immunity to representatives of paramilitary organisations who are transporting weapons for the purpose of decommissioning.

Opposing the application, crown counsel said witnesseshad seen Mr Fulton produce a semi-automatic pistol and fire several shots in the air. He was then said to have put the gun to the head of a passer-by.

Mr Fulton's counsel claimed that two men had appeared, fired the gun, then handed it to him and disappeared.

It was said that when he saw a man crouching on the ground he had grabbed him by the shoulders and told him he was in no danger.

Lord Justice Campbell, refusing bail, said that Mr Fulton had been outside the limits of the document by carrying a loaded weapon.

An LVF statement, issued after the hearing, repeated its previous pledge that an act of decommissioning would take place, adding that it was appointing a second person to liaise with the decommissioning body.

It has been reported that the decommissioning body issued a certificate to the LVF, for the period 1 to 18 December, but this was rescinded shortly after the shooting incident.

Last month Mo Mowlam, Northern Ireland Secretary, announced that the Government was recognising the ceasefire called in May by the LVF.

The Portadown-based LVF is unique among paramilitary groups in promising early decommissioning of someweapons in exchange for the recognition of its ceasefire. Last month, however, it shelved plans for imminent decommissioning because it was offended by "insensitive" remarks by Unionist MP Ken Maginnis, who described LVF members as ruthless sectarian killers.

t Optimism was growing in Belfast last night that agreement in the long-running dispute on the structures of government for Northern Ireland was close. The Ulster Unionists and the nationalist SDLP were confident they would have the impasse broken by Christmas - most likely this week. Talks between the two groups continued at Stormont.