Eight in court over £2m drugs find
Eight men have appeared in court in connection with a massive drugs find by Northern Ireland police.
Around £2 million worth of cocaine, amphetamine and herbal cannabis were recovered after detectives tracked a consignment from the north of England to Annalong, Co Down.
A Dutch citizen was also charged with conspiracy to supply offences. Three of the accused are also being investigated for money laundering after large sums of cash were confiscated.
It follows police raids in Belfast, Kilkeel and Preston, Lancashire, earlier this month.
The accused were named as: Liam Patrick Young, 32, of no fixed abode; Gary John Stephenson, 28, from the Hawthorns, Annalong; Barry Kavanagh, 29, of no fixed abode; Richard Noble, 26, from Mirabel Street, Manchester; Christopher McNally, 25, from Leesands Close, Preston; Keith Laffin, 27, from Ballyveaghmore Road, Ballymartin; Francis Christie, 37, from Hollybrook Grove, Newtownabbey; and Steve Mesquita, 27, a Dutchman of no fixed address.
A police spokesman told the court the drugs had been brought into Northern Ireland from the north of England via the Scottish port of Cairnryan, shipped to Larne, Co Antrim, and trafficked through Belfast to Annalong. He added the investigation had lasted a year, saying it would be months before it was complete.
University of Bolton student Noble was expected to get a first class degree, his lawyer Noel Phoenix said, claiming his client was innocent. He said there was no evidence of large amounts of money in his bank account.
Mr Phoenix said his client accepted that he had helped carry boxes but claimed he didn't know what was in them.
"He offered an innocent explanation for his actions...his premises was searched and nothing was found."
He was released on bail after a surety was offered to the court and will reappear on March 16. The rest were remanded in custody to reappear via video-link on the same date, although bail applications may be made earlier.