THREE men were arrested and a £400,000 consignment of herbal cannabis seized following a lengthy police operation against a criminal gang, a court has heard.
The 20 kilo consigment of drugs was brought into Northern Ireland on a lorry from Scotland which was being watched by detectives from the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch, a judge was told.
And officers watched as five boxes of drugs were switched from a lorry to a car at a rendezvous point in Belfast.
On Tuesday, three men faced Belfast Magistrates Court accused of conspiracy to supply Class B drugs.
They are Stephen Martin Hale, 30, of Summerhill, Banbridge; Samuel John White, 32, Crew Road, Maghera; and David McCaughan, 57, Ghent Place, Belfast.
McCaughan and White both face further counts of possessing herbal cannabis with intent to supply.
White is also accused of supplying Class B drugs, while Hale has been charged with having criminal property.
A detective constable told Belfast Magistrates’ Court he could connect all three suspects to the alleged offences.
Neither Hale nor McCaughan applied for bail and were remanded in custody to appear again in four weeks time.
Opposing White’s application to be released, the officer said the drugs seizure resulted from proactive investigation run by the PSNI’s Organised Crime Branch over a number of months.
He disclosed that a Scania lorry driven by White arrived in the Boucher Road area of Belfast after travelling on a ferry from Cairnryan.
Boxes were unloaded and packed into a waiting Volkswagen Passat that was then stopped and searched.
Twenty kilos of suspected herbal cannabis with an estimated street value of £400,000 was recovered, the court heard.
Forensic tests of the haul are ongoing, while telephones seized as part of the operation are also being analysed.
White was detained at a nearby Tesco distribution centre where he was making another, legitimate, delivery.
The detective claimed an organised crime group had suffered a substantial loss of drugs due to the seizure.
White may come under pressure to try to help recoup these losses, he said.
“There are other members that may or may not ever be identified, but there are ongoing inquiries to try and identify them,” he added.
“There’s also a risk of flight. He’s a lorry driver who travels across the UK and Europe and he may never return.”
White’s solicitor described his client as an ordinary family man who works for a construction firm and occasionally carries out other delivery jobs in England.
“He says he was contacted by another individual who may be a co-accused asking him to pick up boxes from another person in England,” the lawyer said.
It was claimed that White believed the packages could have contained tobacco.
Refusing bail, District Judge Fiona Bagnall cited the risk of possible re-offending. White was also remanded in custody to appear again by video-link on 7 May.