An east Belfast taxi driver, recorded on dash cam threatening his passenger, is allegedly an enforcer for the UVF collecting a drug debt, a court heard on Saturday.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard that according to the police case, 48-year-old Brian Stalford is either acting as enforcer for east Belfast UVF over a supposed drug debt or has “gone rogue” and is operating on the patch of an organised crime gang.
According to defence solicitor Mark Austin, the 57 second video is nothing but “TikTok foolery” which Stalford and his two passengers have watched together since the incident in March.
Appearing at court by video link from police custody wearing a grey jumper over a pink polo shirt Stalford, a father-of-five from Park Avenue, confirmed he understood the four charges against him.
The taxi driver, who has been sacked by fonaCAB since the dash cam footage emerged, faces charges that on 26 March this year he had a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, assault and making a threat to kill.
Stalford is also charged with possessing class A cocaine on 1 June this year.
Giving evidence during a contested bail application, DC Campbell form the PSNI Paramilitary Crime Task Force said Stalford’s arrest “follows the widely circulated dash cam footage” where the defendant is alleged to have repeatedly threatened and pointed a firearm at his front seat passenger.
“The threat is made ‘you are lucky I’m not taking your f****** knees out’,” said the officer adding that the passenger is told to “work his debt off.”
He told the court police believe “this is a drug related debt and this is a drug related matter.”
“I work for the PCTF and my role is to investigate the activities of the east Belfast UVF,” said the detective who explained: “obviously there’s no charge for paramilitary related offences and that is because our position is that he is an enforcer for them in relation to drug related matters.”
DC Campbell told the court such threats and behaviour “is how drug debts are enforced and how these criminal organisations maintain their version of order.”
“We have nothing to say today that he is a member of east Belfast UVF but we would say that the area in which these offences took place is an area, we say, that had been shown in court to be controlled by an organised crime gang and we say it’s for that OCG that Mr Stalford is working,” said the officer.
“The other alternative is that he is doing it of his own volition which means he is working on the patch of an OCG as a rogue.”
He told District Judge George Conner the two men in the taxi had both been spoken to twice by investigators but they have both refused to make any statement or co-operate in any way.
The court also heard the firearm which appears in the video has not been recovered although as DC Campbell highlighted, the video was “circulating on the internet for probably about 24 hours before we arrested the defendant.”
“I think all parties would have known the path that this investigation was taking,” said the officer.
DC Campbell said police were objecting to bail due to fears that Stalford would commit further offences, interfere with the investigation and witnesses or abscond.
Under cross examination from Mr Austin the detective agreed that during police interviews, Stalford claimed the firearm was actually a toy gun which belonged to one of the passengers whom he knows and that everyone was a willing participant in the video.
“This is a matter that concerns me,” declared the solicitor, “there’s nothing to contradict his account…..if there was no such thing as social media we would not be here today.”
Describing it as an “idiotic video,” Mr Austin suggested the internet is “littered with idiotic videos” such as this and argued that with a vintage record, working as a taxi driver for 13 years and with a stable family, that Stalford should be granted bail.
Revealing that Stalford’s wife is “riddled with embarrassment,” Mr Austin went so far as to say it may even be the case that “this case may never trouble the court.”
DJ Conner said “at this stage I’m not minded to grant bail.”
“I feel that there’s a risk of further offences and a risk of interference with the investigation,” said the judge as he remanded Stalford into custody and adjourned the case to 30 June.
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