TWO men accused of an anti-Irish Sea Border graffiti blitz in Larne allegedly sent social media messages to each other, with one saying: 'Everybody is doing it tonight, if you want to join the fun'.
The allegation was made by a police officer at Ballymena Magistrates Court who objected to a relaxation of bail conditions for Mitchell Leeburn (25), of Deerpark Road, Kilwaughter, and William Donnell (22), of Waterfall Road, Raloo, who are both charged with eight counts of criminal damage and a further count of possessing an article, namely spray paint, with intent to damage property.
All the alleged offences occurred in Larne in February this year. The charges relate to graffiti at a variety of locations including several retail outlets, NI Housing Executive properties, a Roads Service road sign, a number of walls and a billboard.
The men are on bail but, at the latest court hearing, were seeking to have electronic monitoring tags and curfews removed.
A detective constable objected to the application.
She said around 9.30pm on February 6 this year police received a report of two men spray painting the rear of a store in the Point Street area of Larne and after the males made off they were caught after a "short chase".
The officer said Donnell had keys in his possession and when his car was searched spray paint cans were located.
The policewoman said a "rummage search" along the chase route was conducted and a rubber glove had floated down the Inver River but another was "stuck on a tree on the river bank".
She said she believed they had been discarded into the river.
The officer said they were "blue surgical gloves" and one was seized from the tree.
The top of a gold spray paint can was also found.
The detective said there had been eight incidents of graffiti in Larne town centre and all the paint was gold, white black and red.
She said a gold can top had been found and she believed white and black spray paints were found in a vehicle.
She said the grafitti said: 'All bets are off' with a "target sign sprayed next to it" and 'Larne says no to Irish sea border'.
The officer told the court: "Police believe this was aimed at the threat against the port staff at that time".
The detective said forensics showed Donnell's DNA on the gold spray can top and Leeburn's DNA was in the blue surgical glove.
She said a report showed there was a "moderate to strong possibility" the paint on the walls was the same as that in spray cans located in the vehicle.
The officer added that the defendant's phones were examined and Facebook messages between them were found with one message from Donnell saying: 'Spray the town lol' and Leeburn replied: 'Could be done lol'.
Donnell then allegedly wrote: 'Everybody is doing it tonight lol if you want to join the fun' and Leeburn responded: 'I'll be down in ten lol'.
The officer said police believe they have "strong evidence" against the men and said that since the arrests "there has been no more spate of graffiti on this scale in one day".
The detective said the Irish Sea "Protocol" continues to be discussed by politicians and "there is the potential for this to come to the fore again and become more problematic".
She claimed if the curfew and tags were removed it would give the defendants "free rein again" and police were concerned about further offences being committed.
The PSNI woman said when interviewed the men had denied any involvement and said they were "just walking around the town".
The officer said one of the defendants said he sprays cars "for a living" which was why he had spray cans in his vehicle.
The detective said there had been one other "isolated" incident when another man had painted graffiti on a wall near Larne Police Station and he was spotted by exiting officers.
The officer told a defence barrister there had been "no further incidents" involving Donnell and Leeburn.
Deputy District Judge Greg McCourt said there appeared to be strong evidence to connect both accused "to the really quite serious damage they were causing not just in physical terms but also the nature of the wording and remarks put on the walls."
The judge added: "It doesnt achieve anything whatsoever by criminally damaging property".
He said so a "strict eye can be kept on them" he was not prepared to remove the tags or curfews
The judge said the graffiti had not been "fairly minor" but "it has been done as a campaign."
The cases were adjourned to August 19.
- Main picture: Larne port.