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Armagh man appears in court after £10m worth of cocaine seized in Jonesborough

Drugs seizure in south Armagh

An Armagh man has appeared in court following the seizure of £10 million worth of cocaine in Jonesborough last week – the largest ever seized by the PSNI.

Ciaran McBride, of Mellifont Drive, appeared before Newry Magistrates’ Court, via videolink from Musgrave Custody Suite following his arrest on Monday evening, December 18.

The 38-year-old is charged with possession of a Class A drug with intent to supply, paying for sexual services, driving while disqualified, driving without insurance and having no goods test vehicle certificate.

The court heard that McBride was initially arrested in relation to the driving charges at Flurrybridge Business Park in Jonesborough on Monday, December 11.

Police attended the yard after a report of suspicious activity was made by a member of the public.

When the officers arrived at the business park, they found that frozen meat was being transferred from one vehicle – a dutch registered lorry – to another – Mr McBride’s lorry – and when police carried out checks it was found that the defendant’s vehicle wasn’t insured and that he was in fact a disqualified driver.

McBride accepted the facts of the stop but disputed that he was in a public place and that he didn’t intend on driving out onto the main road.

The small lorry was seized as the result of the no insurance matter. Inside it had two loads of frozen minced pork on it, which was unsealed, untagged and had limited paperwork. This gave rise to suspicion and the vehicle was subsequently searched over the next number of days, using the help of Border Force.

Approximately 100 blocks of suspected cocaine, which were concealed within sophisticated hides inside the boxes of frozen meat, were uncovered.

Police then attempted to track down McBride in an effort to re-arrest him for the alleged drugs offences.

A detective constable told the court that McBride was contacted by phone – by his partner – and he made arrangements to surrender himself, however “he was quite difficult” in that “he didn’t attend to the house and when he arrived at Ardmore police station, he was intoxicated”.

The police were then able to access McBride’s phone, which he freely supplied to them, and as a result of information and photographs that were on the phone, he was further charged with paying for sexual services.

A prosecution solicitor said: “He didn’t make any comment during interview other than a short prepared statement where he denied his involvement in the supply of drugs, saying that he was in the business yard simply moving pallets of meat.

“He didn’t answer any questions or provide any information which would assist in disproving his involvement, or assist the police investigation in relation to the presence of the drugs.”

The detective constable added: “We conducted a search of Mr McBride’s home address and at that home address we did find other consignment paperwork specifically related to the transfer of frozen meat. When this was put to Mr McBride, he offered no comment and give no answer, which gives rise to [police] to have serious concerns that this is not the first time such a consignment of this nature has been moved into Northern Ireland.”

The detective told the court that McBride’s messages “would indicate that he was in the process of purchasing prostitutes that morning and consuming cocaine”.

Adding: “He seems to live a bit of a reckless lifestyle and we have serious concerns in relation to whether or not he’d be a suitable candidate for bail” and that “there was a present a clear danger” to his life from organised crime gangs “in relation to the recovery of the largest seizure drugs we’ve ever had”.

McBride’s defence argued that his client has voluntarily presented himself to the police station from outside the jurisdiction and that he was not a flight risk, given that it was a week between his initial arrest on the driving matters, and the more serious drug charges on December 18.

He alluded to McBride’s record, which showed nothing in relation to drugs, but rather traffic related offences.

“He’s a 38 year old man; he’s been married since 2003,” the solicitor explained of McBride. “He’s lived in his jurisdiction – he has always lived in this jurisdiction – he has very strong family connections to this jurisdiction.

“The type of offending these charges [relate to]; it’s ridiculous to suggest that he is going to repeat that…are these serious criminals, or paramilitaries, going to come back to Mr McBride and ask him to handle another consignment of drugs?”

The solicitor argued that it was implausible and that McBride “is a proper candidate for bail”.

He also requested an anonymity order, which along with bail, was rejected by District Judge Eamon King, who cited flight risk, reoffending and interference of witnesses as cause for him to remain in custody.

“It’s not an amateur enterprise. This is organised crime at its highest level,” Judge King said.

Addressing – and rejecting – the anonymity order, the judge added: “His life will not be in danger while he’s in custody”.

McBride is due back before Armagh Magistrates’ Court on January 16.

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