Judge bans naming drugs accused because of safety

Bishop Street Court House

A judge in Londonderry has banned the naming of three men accused of drugs charges because of safety concerns.

District Judge Barney McElhom said criminal elements in the city had targeted suspects after using media reports to identify them.

The three men, aged 44, 30 and 21, have been remanded in custody.

They are charged in connection with the discovery of £150,000 of cannabis in a house and in a car at Blackthorn Manor in Derry on Friday.

Mr McElhom imposed an anonymity order in relation to media reports on the hearing.

Under the order the defendants names and addresses cannot be made public nor can the date of their next video link remand be reported.

Barrister and SDLP politician Alban Maginness agreed with the decision.

"In the circumstances where in fact there is evidence of people accused of drug offences being targetted by vigilante groups, then i think it was important that the Magistrate take that into consideration.

"It was right and proper of him to protect the identities and addresses of those who were involved," he said.

Mr McElhom said he had extensively researched the law and higher court rulings in relation to anonymity orders.

In making the order the district judge said he did so under the European Court Right to Life legislation. He said he believed there was a risk to the defendants from certain criminal elements in society.

He said in the past these elements used media reports to ascertain the identity of certain people and in this case the anonymity order was appropriate.

Before Monday's appearance he ordered that the court room should be cleared of members of the public with the exception of relatives of the three defendants.

A detective constable told the court that on Friday members of the PSNI organised Crime Branch searched the house and car at Blackthorn Manor. Inside the car the officers found five kilogrammes of cannabis. Inside the house a further two kilogrammes of cannabis were found together with nine bricks of cannabis resin.

£19,000 cash was also discovered inside the house in a mobile safe in bundles of notes.

The officer said one of the defendants was arrested at the scene and the other two were arrested at addresses in the city.

He said during his interview the 44-year-old defendant admitted asking the 21-year-old defendant to drive him to a location between 30 and 40 miles from Derry.

They met a lorry driver who gave them a package. The police officer said it was believed the three defendants and the lorry driver were members of a criminal gang involved in the illegal importation of drugs.

He said he believed if released on bail the defendants would re-offend and interfere in the administration of justice adding that none of the defendants has identified the lorry driver.

The 44-year-old made no reply to charges of possessing, possessing with intent to supply and supplying cannabis. The 21-year-old defendant replied, "I didn't know it was there it was just put in the boot." to the possession charge.

To the charge of possessing with the intent to supply he replied, "I just done the driving. I didn't touch it at all."

To the charge of supplying cannabis he replied, "No I didn't touch it".

The 30-year-old defendant made no reply to two charges of possessing cannabis and no reply to two charges of possessing the drug with intent to supply it.

He was further charged with driving while disqualified and driving without insurance.

Applying for bail for two of the defendants, solicitor Seamus Quigley said the 44-year-old man was down on his luck financially and had asked the 21-year-old to drive him to the location.

He said the 44-year-old knew he was involved in illegal activity but the 21-year-old was not aware of the reason for the journey.

Applying for bail for the 30-year-old defendant, solicitor Paddy MacDermott said his client had let his premises be used for the storage of the drugs and he was now in fear of people further up the drugs chain.

Refusing bail Mr McElhom said the only way to tackle this sort of crime was to hit the enterprise where it hurt. He described the charges as very serious and refused bail. All three were remanded in custody for a video link hearing on a date which cannot be reported.

A barrister for the PSNI applied for a six month detention order for the £19,000.

The application was not opposed and it was granted.