A lorry driver from Northern Ireland who stood accused in England of smuggling nearly £1m of cannabis into the UK has been cleared – with help from veteran former Ulster Unionist MP Ken Maginnis.
Tom Carson (47), from Reaskcor Road, Dungannon, burst into tears after a jury cleared him yesterday of trying to smuggle more than 300 kilos of drugs in a chocolate-packed truck at a court in Canterbury, Kent, yesterday.
Lord Maginnis (70) appeared in court last week as a character witness to tell of his 60-year friendship with the Carson family.
He told the jury last Thursday: “I have known the Carsons for three generations – almost 60 years. They are very respectable businessmen and exemplary for all those years.
“There has never been a rumour to the detriment of the Carson reputation over all those years.”
After outlining his personal, military and political careers, Lord Maginnis said: “The work he (Tom) does with the rural community in Northern Ireland involves farmers. Farmers would not work with people who are crooked.”
The court heard Lord Maginnis “almost froze” in shock when he learned of the defendant’s arrest at the Dover eastern docks in Kent in December last year.
Customs officials found the drugs hidden in a consignment of chocolate bars being taken to Milton Keynes.
But Lord Maginnis made a special journey to Kent to give evidence at the trial.
“In my parliamentary career I have vehemently attacked drugs traffickers,” he said. “I believe they should be heavily sentenced and if I believed there was a slightest chance that a Carson – Tom in particular – was involved, I wouldn't be sitting here today.
“I have my reputation to think about and my record over the years of trying to do the best for my society.”
In November last year, the defendant drove to Antwerp to drop off a lorry’s gearbox and then headed to Utrecht hoping to pick up a cargo of chocolate to take to Milton Keynes.
Prosecutor Mark Paltenghi at Canterbury Crown Court said he had waited four days before collecting the confectionery, including Kit-Kats, Lions bars, Rolos, After Eight Mints and Quality Street.
But the court heard his new lorry was stopped after it got off a ferry and a single pallet, packed with cannabis, was found among 59 pallets.
Mr Carson told police he had been duped into taking the drugs into Britain. He said he had nothing to do with the load being put on his trailer and that a “rogue employee” at the Dutch chocolate factory had loaded it on.
The jury unanimously cleared Mr Carson of drug smuggling at yesterday’s hearing. He burst into tears as the verdict was read and said: “Thank you” to the jury’s 12 members.
Outside court, a relieved Mr Carson said he was grateful to Lord Maginnis and Lord Maurice Morrow, who had both appeared as character witnesses.
He said: “These past 10 months have been an absolute nightmare, I’m so glad it’s over.
“Mr Maginnis has been a friend of the family’s for many years. He helped me a great deal.”
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Lord Maginnis said he was pleased at the outcome of the trial.
“My feeling is one of relief because I genuinely believed Tom Carson would have nothing to do with smuggling drugs.”