Two Craigavon men were remanded into custody at the weekend accused of having around a kilo of “very pure” cocaine.
While 31-year-old Dean Smith did not apply for bail at Lisburn Magistrates Court, his friend and co-accused Thomas Nicholl did apply but was refused after cops claimed the pair “played an integral role in an organised crime gang”.
Warehouse worker Smith, from Gilpin Park and unemployed Nicholl, from Knightsbridge, are jointly charged in four charges of supplying cocaine, possessing cocaine and having the class A drug with intent to supply and possessing class B cannabis on November 24 this year.
A fifth count against Smith alleges that he possessed cannabis with intent to supply on the same date.
Giving evidence to the court, Detective Constable Hawkins said he believed he could connect the men to the charges which arose “as a result of an ongoing operation into serious organised crime”.
The officer outlined how uniformed officers stopped Smith’s Vauxhall Vectra car in Gracefield Lodge in Dollingstown but having grabbed a “brick-shaped object” from the footwell, he ran across a field towards undergrowth.
Nicholl, who appeared in the dock with his right arm in a sling, tried to run as well but he stumbled and fell, breaking his wrist in the process.
The DC said a police dog handler was “in the scene quite quickly” and having picked up a human scent, the dog first uncovered the cocaine and then Smith who was hiding in a bush.
A small “deal bag” of herbal cannabis was uncovered in Nicholl’s possession when he was searched and a further similar bag was found on the dashboard of Smith’s car, the court heard.
In relation to the cocaine, DC Hawkins said it was wrapped in clingfilm, inside a plastic bag within a tied sock but while its exact weight was not known, that was because the investigation team wanted to keep it “forensically intact” so it would be examined at the forensic lab.
The officer said however that police believed it was uncut “because of the speed of the field test turned positive, it’s very pure,” adding that it had an estimated street value of around £50,000.
During interviews both Smith and Nicholl denied any knowledge of the cocaine, claiming they had gone to Newtownabbey to buy cannabis and had ran from cops “in a panic”.
The detective said police have “strong objections to bail” amid fears they would re-offend to “recoup the loss” the seizure represented.
While there are further investigations to carry out, including a triage of their seized mobile phones, “the defendants, we believe, have been transporting the drugs as part of an integral role in an organised crime gang”.
Defence solicitor Conor Downey said that despite his claims during interviews, he had received “firm instructions” from Smith that “he alone was the only person aware of the existence” of the drugs and that according to him, “Mr Nicholl played absolutely no part in this whatsoever”.
The lawyer said Smith had “volunteered that information... in the full knowledge that that would not affect the prosecution objections” to bail.
With several relatives weeping in the public gallery, Mr Downey said Nicholl suffered from a genetic vine disorder and was a father-of-two whose partner and family were willing to sign as sureties for him to allay police fears.
District Judge Rosie Watters said while the solicitor had “done an excellent job” in his bail application, she had “concerns” about why Smith had asked Nicholl along without telling him anything about the reasons why.
“There’s a lot of money at stake here so why would he take a passenger along who didn’t know anything about purpose of the trip or purpose of the expedition so I’m concerned about the commission of further offences looking at the amount involved and I have been told they are involved in serious crime and may recoup their loss,” said the judge.
Smith and Nicholl will appear again in Craigavon Magistrates Court via videolink on December 16.