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One of Markethill cannabis factory accused duo was trafficked, despite earlier assertion

'It is a principle of the law in this jurisdiction that anyone suspected of being a victim of trafficking should not be held in custody at all'

Markethill cannabis factory

One of the two Vietnamese men accused of operating a cannabis factory in Markethill is reportedly being considered as a victim of human trafficking, despite a court previously being told that neither were.

Ty Van Le (33) and Vinh Cong Pham (33), who are both currently in custody in Maghaberry, appeared on Tuesday (February 6) via videolink for the hearing before Armagh Magistrates’ Court, sitting at Newry Courthouse.

They are facing the charges of cultivating cannabis, possessing a Class B drug, attempted possession of a Class B drug, dishonestly causing electricity to be diverted, being concerned in the supply of Class B drugs and dishonestly using electricity.

The pair were arrested after the discovery of a suspected cannabis factory in the Main Street area of Markethill on October 3.

In court, the prosecution stated that both of the accused claim they are victims of human trafficking and were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

An assessment of Vinh Cong Pham, determined there are currently no “reasonable grounds” to conclude he is a victim. However, Ty Van Le has been classified as a victim of trafficking, with the prosecution waiting on a final assessment of him to be formally submitted.

They added the accused are to be interviewed by way of achieving best evidence in relation to their claims to be victims.

District Judge Anne Marshall replied: “I was told previously neither defendant was considered to be a victim of trafficking. There’s now been a change in relation to one.

“I was also told previously that the police were going to interview them in relation to their claims and that was four weeks ago and it still hasn’t been done. Now you’re telling me one of them is a victim and still hasn’t been interviewed?”

Defence lawyer Ruairi Gillen described the proceedings as a “disgrace”.

He continued: “Your worship was told on the last occasion – and it was certainly my note – that they were not victims of trafficking and it was only very recently that we eventually convinced the Home Office that they could share the information with us and it turns out that the police have been aware since the 20th of December that one of these men has a positive, reasonable grounds decision.

“That is a significant event, not least because it is a principle of the law in this jurisdiction that anyone suspected of being a victim of trafficking should not be held in custody at all.”

Mr Gillen then added that the Department of Justice have funding to secure addresses for victims of trafficking and Migrant Help have already agreed to take the defendant.

“It simply cannot be allowed to sit in circumstances where this man has been in custody as a victim of trafficking. It is perhaps one of the most egregious breaches of one’s human rights that you can come across.”

In respect of Ty Van Le, District Judge Marshall opted to set his bail at £250, releasing him to an address approved by the police and Home Office.

At the close of the hearing, one of the defendants, with the assistance of a Vietnamese interpreter, said: “I was trafficked into the country… I had no other choice… they forced me to do it…”.

The case was adjourned for one week, with the investigating officer to attend the next hearing.

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