Northern Ireland

Three in court over ecstasy haul 'recruited by crime gang'

Suspected drugs seized in Portstewart
Image caption The haul is estimated to have a street value of £500,000

Six men charged over a £500,000 drugs seizure were allegedly used by a gang because they had no criminal records, the High Court heard on Thursday.

The men were arrested in Portstewart during raids on 15 October.

The operation uncovered the largest haul of ecstasy tablets found in NI in the last three years.

Prosecutors said the ecstasy was found hidden in the walls and stuffed into a sofa at a flat in the town along with suspected amphetamines.

More drugs were discovered underneath insulation in the attic of another property.

Three of the men who are facing charges including possessing Class A and Class B drugs with intent to supply, and conspiracy to supply appeared in court to apply for bail.

Matthew McGookin, 23, of the Promenade in Portstewart, was granted bail to stay at his retired police officer parents' home in Coleraine.

Co-accused Daniel Morrow, 20, also of the Promenade, Portstewart, and James Platt, 20, from Coleraine Road, Portrush, were remanded in custody.

The court heard that organised crime branch detectives launched a search and arrest operation after being told that two other suspects were transporting illegal drugs between two properties.

Bags of white powder and three large bags of blue tablets were found at the flat on the Promenade.

Police believed that tablets recovered from a house in the Millfort Close area were also ecstasy.

An estimated total of 90,000 ecstasy tablets and 333g of amphetamines was confiscated.

Specifically recruited

Prosecution lawyers said police believed the accused were targeted by members of a wider organised crime gang because they lacked criminal records.

"It's felt they are being specifically recruited for that reason," she said.

According to the prosecution Mr Morrow's rented flat on the Promenade was being used as a safe house to store the drugs.

Police said posters were placed over holes in bedroom walls where some of the haul was hidden.

The prosecution said searches of other locations were planned, with potentially further arrests to be made.

The defence lawyer told the court that his client had only moved into the flat between three and four weeks ago when he sub-let a room from Mr Morrow.

He said Mr McGookin knew nothing about the drugs, none of which were found in his room.

"The suggestion that he has a clear record and comes from a good family is now being put forward by the prosecution as a reason why he would be more likely to have committed these offences than not," he said.

The defence added that the alleged link to a crime gang "does not bear any scrutiny whatsoever".

The judge agreed to grant bail to Mr McGookin, but banned him from entering either Portrush or Portstewart.

Mr Justice Hart also imposed a night-time curfew and prohibited him from contacting any co-accused.

The court also heard how a photograph of a quantity of an unidentified white substance was found on Mr Platt's mobile phone.

His barrister put this down to "stupidity and naivety", suggesting it may have been an act of bravado.

Refusing bail to both Mr Platt and Mr Morrow, the judge held there was a risk of further offences being committed.

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