Northern Ireland

Plot to rob millionaire Michael Herbert 'highly sophisticated'

Michael Herbert and his wife
Image caption The men are accused of conspiring to rob Michael Herbert

A suspected plot to rob the home of one of Northern Ireland's richest men allegedly involved sophisticated planning and surveillance, the High Court has heard.

A judge said the claims made against three men from Merseyside had "all the trappings of professional criminals".

Mr Justice McCloskey set out the prosecution case as he granted bail for Craig Murray, 31, one of the accused.

Mr Murray of Victoria Road, Crosby, was seeking bail to return to Liverpool.

The charges reportedly relate to an alleged plot to rob the home of multi-millionaire Michael Herbert, whose business interests include Europe's largest chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets.

Mr Murray is accused of conspiracy to rob and falsely imprison the occupants of a house in south Belfast.

He is also accused of going equipped for burglary and being armed with an offensive weapon with intent, namely a crowbar.

The two other accused are Stephen Barlow, 47, and Richard Blundell, 49, all with addresses in Liverpool.

Mr Murray, a former "nightclub supervisor", was seeking bail to take up a new temporary job offer as a painter and decorator on Merseyside.

His barrister, Declan Quinn, argued that there was no risk of any interference with witnesses in the case if he returned to Liverpool.

Mr Quinn added: "The Crown haven't suggested he was some sort of mastermind."

Detailed planning

The court heard that when interviewed after his arrest, Mr Murray stayed mainly silent.

Ruling on the application, the judge pointed out that the prosecution case was that the accused were "a highly organised, experienced and sophisticated criminal gang involved in detailed planning, equipping themselves with all kinds of articles, reconnaissance and surveillance tactics and so forth".

Mr Justice McCloskey said that by "a very narrow margin" he was granting bail.

But he directed that a £2,000 cash surety must be lodged in court before the accused could be released.

Mr Murray was also ordered to relinquish any mobile phones, told to report three times a week to Merseyside Police, and curfewed and banned from contacting alleged victims or witnesses.

The judge added that once his temporary employment ends next month, he must return to the High Court for his bail to be reviewed.

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