Northern Ireland

Underground cannabis factory found in County Down

A large cannabis factory described in court as 'something that had not been encountered ' in Northern Ireland before, has been found in Newcastle, County Down.

The underground facility contained three purpose-built rooms filled with around 600 plants.

The court heard the cannabis had a potential street value of £350,000.

Five men were arrested in the operation.

The court heard how police had carried out a detailed surveillance operation against the gang. This included covert video footage, photographs and audio recordings.

Details emerged as one of the accused was refused bail.

Brendan Rice, 48, of Dundrum Road, Newcastle, faces charges of cultivating and possessing cannabis with intent to supply. He was arrested along with four other men during a police raid at a property on the Derryneil Road, Castlewellan on 21 May .

Keys found on Mr Rice at the time were said to belong to the shutters on a large shed that covered the entrance to where the cannabis was being grown.

A prosecution lawyer, told the court that she felt Mr Rice's role extended to more than merely tending to and growing the cannabis plants.

"Police are in possession of a number of covert audio and video recordings in respect of this applicant.

"Clearly this is an organised crime gang and police believe it did take a considerable degree of planning to get this concealed cannabis factory set up.

"Concealing them underground in a purpose-built area, on top of which a large shed was built, had never before been encountered in Northern Ireland.

"Walls were lined with lighting, hose-piping and other equipment to aid the cultivation process," she said.

Cars estimated to be worth £100,000 were also taken by police.