Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Ciaran Maxwell: The marine who turned to terror

Ciaran Maxwell, 31, stashed anti-personnel mines, mortars, ammunition and 14 pipe bombs - four of which were deployed - in purpose-built hides in Northern Ireland and Devon. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

The village Exminster is a quiet and unassuming rural community on the outskirts of Exeter in Devon. Probably one of the last places in the UK to ever be linked with sectarian violence and dissident republicanism in Northern Ireland.

However, when armed police and anti-terrorism officers descended on the village in August 2016, locals were in for an all-mighty shock.

"We just didn't expect this to crop up in a quiet village in Devon, it was a big surprise" - one local resident admitted, as he was reflecting on the events of last year.

Maxwell lived here with his partner when he was off-duty in the Devon village of Exminster, the couple also have a young son. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

The search in Exminster was prompted by the arrest of Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell, at his barracks at the Norton Manor Camp in Somerset.

The 31-year-old, originally from Larne in Co Antrim, had enlisted in 2010 as a member of 40 Commando.

However, under the eyes of his superiors, he had been smuggling arms out of his base near Taunton, and stashing them in purpose built-hideouts for over five years.

Maxwell was a member of 40 Commando and stationed at the Norton Manor Camp near Taunton in Somerset. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

Police had originally discovered Maxwell's hides in Carfunnock Country Park and Capanagh Woods near his hometown of Larne in Northern Ireland, after tip-offs from the public.

Traces of DNA found on some of the weapons discovered there led them to Maxwell at his Somerset base. After his arrest, they discovered his third plot for stashing equipment, in the Powderham New Plantation just a couple of miles form his home in Exminster.

Maxwell had 43 hides spread across three locations in total, 19 of which were in Devon. It was there that police discovered an assortment of explosives and ammunition stashed in blue barrels and buried in the ground. The find included claymore mines, detonators and pipe bombs, four of which were actually deployed by dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland.

Maxwell stashed his arms in blue barrels and would bury them in the ground to retrieve at a later date. Credit: Police Service Northern Ireland.
Pipe bombs were found in Maxwell's hideouts, four of which are believed to have been deployed by groups in Northern Ireland. Credit: Police Service Northern Ireland.
The claymore mines found in Maxwell's hideouts had serial numbers on them linking them to his base at Norton Manor Camp in Somerset. Credit: Police Service Northern Ireland.

Maxwell had also ordered chemicals and other parts over the internet for delivery to Northern Ireland, and he carried ammunition with him between England and Northern Ireland by ferry.

Chemicals and materials to make more bombs, as well as an adapted Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) pass card, a PSNI uniform and a police stab-proof vest, were also found by police in barrels and buckets buried in the ground.

Police described Maxwell as primarily a 'bomb maker', but searches of his locker at Norton Manor suggested he may have been complicit in planning attacks, with officers discovering lists of named targets and locations.

ACC Stephen Martin of the Police Service Northern Ireland and Commander Dean Haydon, head of the Met Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit say it was likely that Maxwell was planning to assist in large-scale attacks:

Why Maxwell decided to conduct this behaviour is still uncertain.

After originally denying the charges after his arrest in August 2016, Maxwell pleaded guilty to terror offences, along with fraud and drugs offences at a hearing in February this year.

The sentencing hearing at the Old Bailey over the past week did offer some insights into the 31-year-old's past.

Ciaran Maxwell's defence claimed he had 'no long-lasting republican ideology' and his behaviour was driven by fear. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

Maxwell grew up as part of a catholic family in Larne, a largely loyalist/protestant area of Northern Ireland. In 2002, aged just 16, he was allegedly beaten in violent attack by a loyalist group.

However, he showed no particular affiliations with any specific dissident republican groups and would go on to join the military eight years later.

Paul Hynes QC, defending, told the Old Bailey that Maxwell was not ideologically driven and would not have used violence for a cause.

Claiming that he was "paralysed with fear, had "got in way over his head" with his behaviour, and was struggling to find a way out.

The judge eventually sentenced Maxwell to 18 years in prison for his crimes, stating that he had no doubt that he was a "dangerous individual" who took pleasure in his bomb-making abilities, and dispelled claims that he had no strong Republican sympathies.

Whilst he was eventually caught, many will be concerned as to how he managed to smuggle weapons out of a high security military facility for so long.

The Ministry of Defence says a review of security procedures in military bases was carried out in the wake of Maxwell's arrest.