A senior PSNI detective has today welcomed the first ever Paramilitary Crime Task Force prosecution for membership of a proscribed organisation.
Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton, PSNI's investigative lead for the PCTF, spoke following today’s sentencing at Belfast Crown Court of David 'Dee' Coleman from Malvern Lane in West Belfast for membership of the UDA.
Mr Coleman, who police believe is the second in command for the West Belfast UDA's C Company, received a sentence of four years in prison, reduced to three years for his guilty plea (half to be served in prison and half on licence) today after pleading guilty on September 4 to two offences under the Terrorism Act - membership of a proscribed of organisation and possession for terrorist purposes, specifically relating to a typed document used to swear in new members to the UDA.
The 32 year old was arrested on June 17, 2017 following 13 searches over two days by the Paramilitary Crime Task Force. The searches were at the time linked by police to two paramilitary style attacks which were suspected of being carried out by the UDA in West Belfast.
During the searches in West Belfast, Holywood and Portadown, PCTF officers seized numerous paramilitary uniforms and associated paraphernalia including badges, flags and UDA ties.
Detective Superintendent Bobby Singleton said: “Today’s conviction and sentencing marks a significant success for the Paramilitary Crime Task Force. It clearly demonstrates the tangible impact of our work, and that of the wider action plan, to remove paramilitarism from all our communities across Northern Ireland.”
Following the searches at Mr Coleman's home address detectives from the PCTF uncovered evidence of his communications with his criminal associates signed off with coded references to C Company West Belfast UDA. As well as this evidence of his membership of the illegal proscribed organisation, detectives found evidence that after a loss of credibility and support Coleman, and his associates were seeking to reassert themselves and their organisation as a force within the community.
“As well as the incriminating communications police recovered a plethora of supporting evidence, including a document containing the organisation’s oath for swearing in and a substantial amount of paramilitary paraphernalia including UDA ties, scrim net scarves (typically used to mask the face during paramilitary displays), three sets of body armour, a cash counting machine, a UDA cup, a UDA long service medal, a UDA flag and an axe, knuckleduster and machete.'
Detective Superintendent Singleton continued: “Paramilitaries exploit their own communities through various types of criminality. David Coleman wasn't defending people within his community instead he was trying, as all paramilitaries do, to control and exploit them.
"While there can be challenges for us in advancing investigations into paramilitary linked crime where victims are not able to co-operate with us, we target the individuals and groups we believe are responsible and look for any and all evidence of their criminality in order to bring them to justice. Just as we have done successfully done in this case.
“Paramilitary linked criminality and criminal gangs destroy people’s lives and harm our communities, they have no legitimate place in our society, and we are committed to tackling this so that communities can thrive free from coercive control or intimidation.
“Working with our partners in the PCTF PSNI will continue to do all that we can to remove paramilitaries and their influence from communities across Northern Ireland because that’s what people in our communities want. I hope today’s sentencing sends a clear message that there is not, and will not be, any hiding place for paramilitaries and their criminality.”