Pair convicted of plot to assault Celtic manager Neil Lennon

 

Two men were convicted today of conspiring to assault Celtic manager Neil Lennon and other high profile supporters of the club in a parcel bomb plot.

Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie sent devices they believed were capable of exploding to the football boss, former MSP Trish Godman and the late Paul McBride QC, as well as the republican organisation Cairde Na hEireann, in March and April last year.

McKenzie was also convicted of posting an item to Lennon at Celtic Park with the intention of making him believe it was likely to explode or ignite and cause injury or damage to property.

Muirhead was cleared of this charge after the jury returned a not proven verdict.

A jury of 11 women and four men took almost two and a half hours to find the pair guilty by majority verdict of the conspiracy to assault charge and McKenzie by unanimous verdict for sending another suspicious package to Lennon, following a five-week trial at the High Court in Glasgow.

Muirhead, 44, from Kilwinning, and McKenzie, 42, from Saltcoats, both Ayrshire, were originally accused of conspiring to murder their targets but the charge was thrown out yesterday due to insufficient evidence.

The pair had denied the charges against them.

The case against them centred on five suspicious packages, two of them addressed to Lennon, which were discovered last spring.

None of the devices sent were viable, the court heard, but prosecutors argued that both accused believed four of them were capable of exploding or igniting.

The first package found, which was intended for Mr Lennon at Glasgow's Celtic Park, was described in court as a hoax nail bomb.

Royal Mail postman Andrew Brown, 27, said he became suspicious of a package he picked up from a postbox in Gladstone Road, Saltcoats, on Friday March 4 last year.

He said something about the heavy brown envelope "didn't feel right", so he alerted his supervisors when he got back to the Saltcoats sorting office in the town's Chapelwell Street.

The building was evacuated and police set up a 100-metre cordon around it as specialist officers inspected the parcel. The device was found to contain 248 nails.

The discovery came hot on the heels of a much-publicised confrontation between Mr Lennon and now Rangers FC manager Ally McCoist at an Old Firm match.

Later that month a second parcel meant for the Celtic boss at the club's training ground in Lennoxtown, East Dunbartonshire, came to light.

The brown padded envelope was intercepted at the Royal Mail sorting office in Kirkintilloch on March 26 last year when a postman spotted a nail protruding from it. It tested positive for peroxide, which can be used to make explosives.

Mr Lennon told the trial he had been left "very disturbed" after finding out he had been targeted.

But he was not the only one intended to receive suspicious packages.

Two days later, on March 28, a package delivered to Ms Godman's constituency office in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, sparked the evacuation of the building.

Jurors heard that liquid inside a plastic bottle within the package had tested positive for the explosive substance triacetone triperoxide.

Before the incident, Ms Godman, who was Labour MSP for West Renfrewshire, had worn a Celtic top to the Scottish Parliament as a "dare for charity" on the final day before Holyrood was due to dissolve, pending the elections.

On the same day as the package was delivered to the former MSP, a package destined for Cairde Na hEireann in Glasgow was in the postal system.

A postman had tried to deliver the package to the republican organisation at the Gallowgate on March 28.

After failed attempts to do so then and on the following day, it was sent to Royal Mail's National Returns Centre in Belfast.

The package was X-rayed and found to contain nails, a watch component, a bottle and a wire. It was also said to hold potentially explosive peroxide.

The following month, a Royal Mail delivery driver found a suspicious package addressed to Mr McBride at the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, which contained a bottle of petrol.

It was collected from a postbox in Montgomery Terrace in Kilwinning on April 15 last year. It was found to contain nails and a wire.

Mr McBride was known to have represented Mr Lennon and Celtic.

The net soon closed in on Muirhead and McKenzie.

Police bugged McKenzie's car in which a man identified as him was secretly recorded saying he had told someone how to make a bomb.

Further covert recordings from the car in May picked up male voices discussing "planting" something outside a police station.

A search of Muirhead's house in Kilwinning in May last year uncovered petrol cans, a quantity of black wire and a bottle of cream peroxide. Other items found were an "oath of allegiance" to the Scottish Unionist Association, a Union flag and two flags featuring the Red Hand of Ulster.

A text message sent from a phone found at his home, referred to "our package".

Muirhead said he had obtained peroxide and passed it on to McKenzie, adding that he was "terrified" of him.

"I know he's got pure hatred and it seems to be aimed at Neil Lennon and anything to do with Celtic Football Club," Muirhead told officers.

McKenzie admitted to police that he had constructed a "hoax bomb" posted to Mr Lennon at Celtic Park and said he had bought materials for other packages.

He said he was aware of how to make a bomb after seeing it on the 1980s TV show The A-Team.

Muirhead stared ahead of him in the dock after the verdicts were delivered.

McKenzie shook his head and appeared to mutter to himself.

Some family members burst into tears in the public gallery and left the court with their arms around each other.

The court heard that both men have "one or two convictions under the Road Traffic Act".

Judge Lord Turnbull deferred sentence in the present case to Friday April 27 at the High Court in Glasgow.

Both accused, who have been in custody since May 13 last year, were remanded today before the sentencing hearing.

Lord Turnbull told the men: "You have been convicted of unusual but serious offences.

"Given that neither of you have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment in the past, before I could contemplate imposing such a sentence it would be necessary, in compliance with statutory procedure, to obtain a social inquiry report in respect of each of you."

McKenzie nodded to supporters in the public gallery as he was led away to the cells.

The judge thanked the jurors for the "care and attention" they had shown during the lengthy trial.

PA

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