Ex-loyalist militant jailed on 1974 charge
North’s First Minister urged court not to jail man who had been on run 40 years
Sammy Tweed, who escaped from court in 1974 when he was charged in connection with an arms haul, was jailed for two years at Belfast Crown Court.
A former loyalist paramilitary who had been on the run from police for almost 40 years has been jailed in Belfast for 2½ years for having a cache of guns and ammunition in 1974.
Tweed, of Mark Street, Newtownards, was told by Judge Philip Babington: “These were, and are, serious offences, albeit you were younger and less wise, but that does not diminish the seriousness of the offences in any way at all.
“I am satisfied that you have lived a lawful and law-abiding life over the last 40 years. However, that does mean that the offences are any less serious, far from it.”
Tweed had pleaded guilty to escaping lawful custody and to possession of revolvers and pistols with intent to endanger life, along with 2,500 rounds of ammunition.
Prosecution counsel David McDowell earlier told the court that on April 19th, 1974, police tried to stop a Ford Cortina car being driven by Tweed, then aged 32, along the Beersbridge Road in east Belfast, but he left the vehicle and made off on foot.
The court heard an RUC officer caught him and grabbed his coat but Tweed removed the coat and made off again.
During a search of the car he had been driving, police located a Walther pistol under the back seat. His fingerprints were also found on the rear-view mirror.
During a search of the house, a “cache of firearms” and ammunition was found in a front room and downstairs bathroom.
The following month, on May 7th, 1974, Tweed was present in the dock during a remand hearing at Belfast Magistrates Court when proceedings were disrupted by a denim-clad mob of teenagers who shouted: “There’s a bomb in here.”
Mr McDowell added: “Pandemonium broke out in the courtroom. Mr Tweed got out and escaped from the courtroom.”
In 2011, his solicitor approached the PSNI and asked if there was anything outstanding against his client. He was told Tweed was not wanted on any warrants.
Defence counsel Eilis McDermott told Judge Babington: “For whatever reason the authorities did not appear to seek out or arrest Mr Tweed after his escape.”
“It is inconceivable that he would not have been found. He was living in east Belfast with his wife and children at the family address from a few weeks after his escape took place. He always lived in that area.
“He didn’t sign on for state benefits. He didn’t work and his wife supported him until the time of her death in 2010.”
Ms McDermott added that the defendant was “not aware of the administrative scheme”, referred to as the ‘on- the-run or OTR scheme’.
She told the court that “such a scheme only benefitted one particular political grouping”.
“It has now been established that many people benefitted from it. Tweed did not benefit from it.”
The defence counsel told the court a number of references had been written on behalf of Tweed – one from DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson, DUP Strangford MP Jim Shannon and east Belfast MLA Sammy Douglas.