Northern Ireland

Ciarán Maxwell: Vetting changes 'will follow Royal Marine case'

Ciarán Maxwell Image copyright Metropolitan Police
Image caption Ciarán Maxwell pleaded guilty to a number of terrorism offences

A retired general has said he has no doubt that Army vetting procedures will be tightened following the case of Royal Marine Ciarán Maxwell.

On Friday, Maxwell pleaded guilty to offences related to dissident republicanism, including bomb-making and storing stolen military weapons.

The 31-year-old from Larne also pleaded guilty to drugs and fraud charges.

Maj Gen Tim Cross said that while no system could be 100% secure, questions would be asked and changes implemented.

"Whatever system you put in place, if somebody's determined to work around it, through it, or above it, they will normally do so, there's always examples of people who work their way through the system," Maj Gen Cross told BBC Radio Ulster's The Sunday News.

"We're talking about human beings who make mistakes. There may well have been opportunities to see what this guy was doing - looks like he's been quite clever in the way he's done it, he's done it over a period of time."

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Maxwell, from Larne, County Antrim, was based with 40 Commando in Somerset

However, he added: "There'll definitely be an inquiry, systems will be looked at and challenged and things will be tightened and hardened up, I don't think there's any doubt about that."

Maj Gen Cross, who served in Northern Ireland, said security questions put to soldiers in the past are no longer asked due to "political correctness".

"I was vetted, from a security point of view, regularly, throughout my 40-odd years in the military," he said.

"What's interesting today is that a lot of the sort of questions that I used to be asked 20, 30 years ago, putting it most bluntly, are now politically incorrect, people are not prepared to ask them.

"So the security vetting process, I think, is a lot more difficult because of, inverted commas, political correctness."

Arms hides

County Antrim man Maxwell was based with 40 Commando in Somerset.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Weapons were found inside barrels buried in Capanagh forest in County Antrim

According to the charge details, he had a stash of explosives in purpose-built hides in England and Northern Ireland.

Last March, police said bomb-making parts had been found in barrels hidden in a wooded area in Carnfunnock County Park in County Antrim.

Two months later another "terrorist hide" was found in Capanagh Forest, also near Larne.

Police described it as one of the most significant arms finds in recent years.

Of particular concern to security chiefs was the discovery of military grade anti-personnel mines.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Pipe bombs and parts for making explosive devices made up part of the haul

Their serial numbers revealed they had been taken from the Royal Marines base in Somerset where Maxwell was based.

Court papers revealed that 12 hides were discovered in total.

Maj Gen Cross said the most concerning aspect of Maxwell's case was how he was able to steal military weapons.

"The reality of getting this stuff in and out of an armoury, that is a seriously important process, normally ridden with checks and something clearly went wrong in this case," he said.

In a statement, the MoD said: "We are aware that a member of the armed forces has pleaded guilty to terrorism offences and we will consider the implications very carefully.

"We will continue to fully co-operate with legal proceedings and, with these ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

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