Mark Harbinson in court charged with breaching sex offender order

Stoneyford loyalist Mark Harbinson appears in court charged with breaching a Sexual Offences Prevention Order

Stoneyford loyalist Mark Harbinson appears in court charged with breaching a Sexual Offences Prevention Order

By Barry McCaffrey

A senior loyalist released from prison last month has appeared in court charged with breaching a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

In May 2011 Stoneyford loyalist Mark Harbinson was convicted of sexually abusing a 13-year-old schoolgirl while he was a leading member of the Pride of the Village flute band in the Co Antrim village.

Harbinson, of Sheepwalk Road in Stoneyford, had used his position as a senior member of the band to groom his victim in 2009.

Today he appeared in court charged with breaching a ban on associating with the organisation after he was released from prison in May this year.

At his original trial in 2011 it was disclosed how he had spent months grooming the teenage victim, with more than 1,700 text messages sent between them.

He was also found to have topless photographs of the girl on a mobile phone.

The information which the schoolgirl gave to police was later used to help convict Harbinson of offences, which included a series of lewd acts against his victim in Stoneyford band hall.

Harbinson was released from prison last month but ordered to serve another three and a half years on licence.

A Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) imposed on Harbinson banned him from working with children and from keeping or using any electronic devices, such as mobile phones or computers, capable of storing any images.

However the 46-year-old appeared in court earlier today accused of continuing to be actively involved in the Pride of the Village band, including the organisation of a parade earlier this month.

He was arrested yesterday and brought before Lisburn Magistrates Court this morning after police found he had not only associated with the Pride of the Village flute band but had used a computer to organise a parade in Stoneyford on June 18.

The court was told that Harbinson was only released from prison seven weeks ago, but has been actively engaged with the flute band, despite being banned from associating with it under the terms of the SOPO order.

A police officer told the court that Harbinson had used a telephone and computer to correspond with the Parades Commission in relation to the band parade.

The 46-year-old had sent an email to the commission describing himself as a spokesman for the band.

The court was told that the SOPO order prevents Harbinson from passing a 30mph street sign in the village while any parade is taking place.

However the court heard that on June 18 members of the Pride of the Village had marched passed the sign to a spot where Harbinson had been sitting.

Two senior police officers reported overhearing a steward asking Harbinson: “Is that okay?”

Harbinson is alleged to have clapped his hands and replied: “Yes.”

A defence barrister told the court that Harbinson accepted having made a series of phone calls to the Parades Commission, identifying himself as a spokesman for the band.

However the defence barrister said that Harbinson denied being a member of the band.

However District Judge Rosemary Watters told Harbinson: “You’re very, very involved as far as I can see.”

Ms Watters said there was prima facia evidence that Harbinson had continued to be involved with the band upon his release from prison, despite clear evidence that this contravened both the SOPO order against him as well as the terms of licence allowing his early release.

A police officer objected to Harbinson being granted bail and told the court she was concerned that a series of parades and bonfires are being arranged in the village to include the involvement of the convicted sex offender.

Turning to Harbinson in the dock, the District Judge said: “You cannot be involved with this band in the future.”

Harbinson replied: “I assure you your worship I won’t be.”

The 46-year-old was released on continuing bail of £500 to reappear in court again on July 25 when the case will continue.

If found guilty of breaching the SOPO order Harbinson could face a maximum five year prison term.

© The Detail 2013