Trio jailed for smuggling cannabis in lorry

General shot of cannabis plants
General shot of cannabis plants

Three men who each played a role in bringing 29 kilos of herbal cannabis from England to Northern Ireland were jailed yesterday.

Mark Cullen, 41, Patrick Austin, 35, and 49-year-old Michael Slevin were all arrested on August 15, 2013 after the drugs were seized shortly after arriving in Larne in the back of a lorry.

Slevin, a lorry driver from Gortmore Drive in Omagh, drove the drugs into Northern Ireland in the back of an HGV and he was accompanied on the run to England and back by Austin, from Rectory Park in Lurgan.

Once the cannabis arrived in Larne, it was passed to Cullen, whose address was given as HMP Maghaberry, at a lay-by in Newtownabbey.

A Crown prosecutor told Belfast Crown Court that Slevin and Austin travelled to England in August 2013 and the pick-up of the drugs occurred in Warwickshire.

At around 6.35am on August 15, 2013 police stopped a car driven by Cullen as it was leaving the car park of a hotel in Newtownabbey. When the vehicle was searched, four cardboard boxes containing the Class B drugs were located in the rear and boot of the car.

Cullen was arrested at the scene while Austin – who was observed getting out of the vehicle moments before it was searched – was also apprehended. Slevin was also arrested that morning.

The prosecutor said each of the three men played a role, benefited financially and could be linked to the drugs seizure by mobile phone activity.

The court heard Slevin was the driver of the lorry, aided and abetted his co-accused and played a lesser role in the enterprise than Austin and Cullen.

Austin was described as a facilitator whose job it was to bring the drugs into Northern Ireland, while Cullen was involved in making arrangements to collect the drugs when they arrived from England.

The prosecutor told the court the amount of cannabis in question was “a very significant amount”, that all three “gained financially” but that “there is no suggestion any of these three had ownership rights to the drugs, as clearly there were people above them”.

He also said the Crown accepted Slevin’s lesser role but rejected claims he made that the boxes contained car parts or cigarettes, and that Austin and Cullen “must have been aware of the scale of the operation”.

Cullen admitted a charge of possessing the drug with intent to supply. He also admitted driving whilst disqualified and driving with no insurance. Austin and Slevin both admitted being concerned with the supply of a Class B drug.

Passing sentence, Judge Brian Sherrard handed Cullen – who the court heard had a “poor criminal history” which includes several drugs convictions – a 32-month sentence. Half of this will be served in custody with the remaining 16 months spent on supervised licence upon his release.

Cullen committed the offence whilst under several suspended sentences, which prompted Judge Sherrard to impose a further consecutive four-month prison sentence. He was also banned from driving for 18 months.

Austin was handed a two-year sentence and was told 12 months will be spent in custody with the remaining half on licence upon his release.

Slevin – who the court heard was the most reluctant to accept his role – was handed a 20-month sentence. As with his co-accused, half the sentence will be served in custody with the remainder on licence.