Northern Ireland

Men in court in Newry over cannabis found in orange juice pallets

Four men have appeared in court charged with attempting to smuggle £800,000 of cannabis into Northern Ireland in pallets of orange juice.

The cannabis was discovered in a van in Camlough, south Armagh.

The accused, three of whom are from Birmingham and the fourth from County Wexford, were arrested on Thursday.

Newry Crown Court was told the investigation involved the PSNI, National Crime Agency (NCA) and Garda (Irish police).

The 167kg drugs shipment was tracked through Spain, England and Ireland, the court heard.

The accused are Chris Connaughton, 36, of St Patrick's Place, Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and Birmingham men Stephen Dainty, 53, of Pool Farm Road, Alcocks Green, Mark Fleetwood, 51, of Dingleside, Hall Green and Paul Green, 62, Weatherfield Road, Tysley.

A lawyer for Mr Connaughton, in whose van the drugs were found, said his client was the "least-part player" and had merely agreed to collect unknown items using his van for a "200 euros cash in hand job".

The court was told he parked the van at Damolly Retail Park in Newry, where it was picked up by "others". The drugs were then allegedly loaded on in Camlough.

Flight records were revealed of connections from Birmingham to Dublin and Alicante in Spain using the credit card of Mr Fleetwood.

A lawyer for Mr Fleetwood said that he was the "patsy" of unknown contraband, "the camouflage in all this, used by others".

A district judge said he was satisfied there was a case against the co-accused in what he believed was a major drug operation crossing international boundaries.

"There has been a highly significant arrest involving drugs with evidence that the four defendants have played a part in a joint venture to conspire to bring drugs into this jurisdiction," the judge said.

"I am refusing bail on the fear that the accused may interfere with evidence gathering in what is a live investigation."

The four co-accused were remanded to appear via video link at Newry Magistrates' Court on 29 April.