Lorry driver drug accused ‘thought he was transporting tobacco’

Thirty-two kilograms of suspected herbal cannabis were seized in the Dargan Road area of Belfast
Thirty-two kilograms of suspected herbal cannabis were seized in the Dargan Road area of Belfast
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A lorry driver charged in connection with the seizure of £600,000 worth of herbal cannabis in Belfast thought he was transporting tobacco, a court heard on Friday.

John McFadden, 45, wept as his lawyer said he denied knowing the boxes found in his vehicle contained 32kg of drugs.

The father-of-five, of Ligford Road in Strabane, was arrested in the Dargan Road area of the city on Thursday.

He appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court charged with possessing Class B drugs with intent to supply.

Opposing bail, a detective claimed McFadden may be linked to a criminal network which planned to distribute the haul throughout Northern Ireland.

“We believe had it gone out to the public it could have caused deaths,” he said.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall heard the cannabis was vacuum packed, with name tags indicating the type of drugs, and had an estimated street value in excess of £600,000.

According to the detective, McFadden gave conflicting accounts during police interviews.

At first the accused said he had been paid £200 to take three boxes he believed contained tobacco, but then referred to feeling under threat.

Defence counsel argued during its application for bail, however, that the self-employed haulage driver from Strabane had fully co-operated with the PSNI.

“Mr McFadden accepted he was asked to transport these three boxes and he accepted they were put in the back of his lorry,” she said.

“He didn’t know what was in the boxes, he thought it was tobacco, and there’s no evidence he looked inside.”

Handcuffed in the dock, McFadden at one point broke down in tears while his wife and daughter watched proceedings from the public gallery.

“He’s very emotional and his family are emotional as well about this case,” his barrister submitted.

“His family have travelled from the north west to support him.”

Describing her client as “a stranger to the criminal justice system”, counsel insisted he has no relevant record.

“It’s completely and categorically denied that he has any criminal associates,” she added.

Bail was refused, however, due to the potential risk of re-offending.

Remanding McFadden in custody to appear again by video-link on November 8, Judge Bagnall said: “It’s clear there’s a criminal network at play here.”