Northern Ireland

Cannabis court: Jury says trafficked man was victim, not criminal

Scales of justice Image copyright LOIC VENANCE
Image caption The ruling effectively overturned a Home Office finding which dismissed the man's claim of being a victim.

A Vietnamese man has become the first person in Northern Ireland to be cleared of criminal charges after putting forward a defence of human trafficking.

The ruling effectively overturned a Home Office finding which dismissed his claim of being a victim.

Hung Van Nguyen, 43, who had been living in County Tyrone, was accused of cultivating and possessing cannabis, with intent to supply.

He first appeared at Dungannon Magistrates Court in September 2018.

Defence lawyers maintained Mr Nguyen was a victim of human trafficking and could not be legally held responsible for criminal activity he may have been forced to commit.

Case delayed

They cited the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act 2015, which provides a defence for slavery and trafficking victims in relation to certain offences.

The case was delayed in order to allow Home Office officials to establish whether Mr Nguyen was a victim or not.

When he was deemed not trafficked, the case went to trial at Omagh Crown Court on Friday.

The court heard Mr Nguyen was first brought from Vietnam to France in 2007, where he worked in restaurants and vegetables shops.

He was then brought to work in Dublin 2012 and County Tyrone in 2017. Work there involved tending to a cannabis factory, where Mr Nguyen was detected, arrested and held in custody.

'Recruiter'

In evidence to the court of his time in County Tyrone, Nguyen said that, although he was free to come and go, "they had my mother in Vietnam".

He said the "recruiter" worked in Vietnamese villages and used the families of those who had been trafficked to control their victims.

The judge advised the jury that this was the first time the defence of human trafficking had been used, and it would be up to them to decide if Nguyen was a victim and therefore not guilty of the drugs offences.

The jury retired and deliberated for just over an hour, returning a unanimously not guilty verdict.

The judge thanked the jurors for their "conscientious consideration of the facts", adding: "I never comment on a jury verdict, but in this instance, I agree completely."

Mr Nguyen in turn thanked the jury and the judge, wishing all "a long and happy life".