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Bail refused after suspected member of ‘The Firm’ claimed puppy chewed through ankle tag

A Portadown man with suspected links to organised crime gang ‘The Firm’ has been remanded in custody following a third breach of bail conditions imposed for firearm and ammunition charges, the latest involving a claim a puppy chewed through his G4S electronic tag.

Ben Craven (24) of Derryhale Road and co-accused Kevin Patrick John Harte (53) from Callan Crescent, Armagh and jointly charged with having a shotgun in suspicious circumstances.

Harte is further accused of taking a car without the owner’s consent while Craven is additionally charged with stealing a vehicle worth £4,000, driving dangerously and without insurance, failing to stop for police and possessing cannabis.

Offending allegedly occurred on August 11, 2023 and while both men were initially refused bail this was later granted at High Court, with conditions including electronic tagging.

Craven appeared before Omagh Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday charged with damaging the tag on 29 January.

A defence solicitor said Craven “has a number of puppies and claims one of them caused the tag to come off by biting at his ankle”.

District Judge Francis Rafferty replied: “I commend you for saying that with a straight face. Are you saying the defendant has instructed you to tell the court a puppy managed to remove the tag from his leg by biting it off? Out of curiosity what breed are these puppies.”

The defence replied they are American Bullys to which the judge said: “So it’s his contention a puppy would be able to bite the tag off a human adult male?”

This was confirmed and as such the breach was accepted.

A detective advised no injuries or marks were found to Craven’s ankle nor teethmarks on the tag to align with a dog pulling it off.

Pointing out how Craven also breached bail on two occasions and was re-released in both instances the detective said: “This is an escalation and the claim of being bitten off by a puppy, while not trying to be flippant, reminds one of ‘the dog ate my homework’.”

“The dog ate my tag doesn’t have quite the same ring to it,” remarked Judge Rafferty.

The defence said the court may be sceptical of Craven’s account but urged bail to be re-granted.

Judge Rafferty enquired: “How does he propose to assure the court that the puppies mightn’t overpower him and remove his tag again?”

The defence replied the puppies could be taken by other family members.

Throwing out the application Judge Rafferty said: “The contentions that a puppy managed to remove his tag is beyond contemptuous. I don’t accept it for a second. It shows he has no concern for a court order.”

Craven will appear again by video-link February 21.

Previously the detective explained police were conducting a welfare check in Eglish after learning a property and occupants were under threat, when a car with blacked-out number plates was observed entering the street before driving back out.

It was subsequently found in a lay-by at Killyliss Road, Dungannon and as police came into view, it reversed at speed, partially entering a ditch.

Officers attempted to block the car from evading them, but it drove forward colliding with the PSNI vehicle.

Given previous information received, officers drew firearms and indicated for Harte and Craven to exit.

Checks showed the vehicle was reported stolen on June 24, 2023 and when searched a sawn-off shotgun was recovered with two live rounds in the chamber.

The detective said: “Police believe these defendants where in the vicinity to carry out an attack and if there hadn’t been an intervention this would have gone ahead. It is believed they are involved in a wider series of events and are potentially part of ‘The Firm’ organised crime gang.”

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