A man has appeared in court in connection with numerous offences including the possession of a pistol-type weapon or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear or violence, after a video circulated on social media appearing to show a taxi driver threatening a passenger with a gun.
Brian Stalford (48), of Park Avenue, Belfast, was charged with having in his possession a pistol-type weapon with intent by means thereof to cause or enable some other person by means thereof to believe that unlawful violence would be used contrary to Article 17A of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 on March 26th.
He was also charged with unlawful assault and a threat to kill on the same date.
In addition, Stalford was charged with possession of cocaine on June 1st.
Appearing via videolink to Laganside Magistrates Court in Belfast, Stalford spoke only to confirm he understood the charges against him.
Detective Constable Campbell with the paramilitary crime taskforce told the court he could connect Stalford with the charges.
He said Stalford was arrested on suspicion of numerous offences, including possession of a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear or violence.
Upon arrest, Stalford was found to be in possession of a pouch containing powder and was charged with possession of a Class-A controlled substance.
Mr Campbell said: “This follows the widely-circulated dashcam footage which shows a male who was a Fonacab driver threatening a front-seat passenger with a handgun.
“The gun is pointed directly at the front-seat passenger and a threat is made: ‘You are lucky I’m not taking your effing knees out now’.
“A number of malicious threats are made to a passenger in which he was told if the conversation in the car gets out: ‘I’ll be taking your head off’.”
Mr Campbell said Stalford hit the passenger in the jaw with the muzzle of the weapon.
“And then was instructing him to work his debt off, police would say that is a drugs-related debt and this is a drugs-related matter.”
Mr Campbell said his role with the paramilitary taskforce is to investigate the activities of the East Belfast UVF.
He said the police’s position is that Stalford is an enforcer for the East Belfast UVF but there was nothing to say he was a member.
He said the offending took place in an area controlled by the East Belfast UVF.
“The other alternative is he’s doing it of his own volition and operating in the patch of an organised crime gang as a rogue.”
There is no charge against Stalford for any paramilitary-related offences.
The firearm in the video has not been recovered by police.
Mr Campbell said he believed the firearm is “long gone” as the video was circulating for 24 hours before the arrest.
He said police had spoken to the two passengers shown in the video but they have not made complaints.
“The threats are being taken very seriously and understandably the two passengers are not willing to co-operate with police in making formal complaints.”
Mr Campbell said Stalford had accepted the footage was from his dashcam and that his briefing of the police interview was that the defendant said the video was done “in jest”.
Stalford’s defence solicitor Mark Austin said there had been no statement of complaints made.
Mr Austin said Stalford was “very clear” in police interview that the gun was not a firearm and was instead a “toy”.
He added that Stalford did not know where the alleged firearm was but believed one of the passengers had.
He said Stalford had no intention to cause fear, intimidation or fear of violence.
Mr Austin said everybody in the video knows each other and had consented to what was occurring.
Mr Campbell said the two passengers had not offered a statement to confirm the circumstances behind the video.
He described them as “understandably frightened individuals”.
Mr Austin said there was a “massive lack of evidence” and cautioned this was “going down a road of reversing the burden”.
He asked if police searches of the passengers’ houses had occurred, to which Mr Campbell said the “victims’ houses would not have been searched”.
Mr Austin said Stalford did not have cocaine and the pouch containing powder needed further testing to determine it had not been contaminated.
Applying for bail, Mr Austin said Stalford had no relevant convictions and the last time he was before a court was for no TV licence in 2014.
“The court is being asked to buy into some sort of social-media frenzy here.”
He said social media is “littered with idiotic videos” like the one in question. He added that Stalford’s wife was in the court and “riddled with embarrassment”.
He said Stalford, who had been employed as a taxi driver, was not at risk of reoffending or absconding.
Police objected to the application for bail over concerns of interfering with justice, a risk of reoffending and a risk of flight.
Mr Campbell said Stalford had “made off from police” in an incident days before the arrest.
He added that Stalford had also previously interfered with justice by destroying evidence.
Mr Campbell said the video was not TikTok foolery and was the enforcement of a drug debt.
The bail application was refused over the risks of reoffending and interfering with the investigation.
Stalford will next appear before court via videolink on the matter on June 30th.