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Meigh: Two in court after officer injured in raid

Two people have appeared in court charged in connection with a major cigarette smuggling operation in south Armagh which left two police officers injured.

More than 8.5 million cigarettes, believed to have been smuggled from China, with an excise duty worth around £2m, were seized during the raid on Tuesday.

They were first shipped inside a 40-foot container to Felixstowe in England which was transported to Dublin, then Dundalk, Co Louth, and eventually across the border to a warehouse near the village of Meigh.

Customs staff believe the counterfeit Benson and Hedges cigarettes were going to be sold at knock-down prices on the black market. The details emerged as James Francis McDonnell (38), from Ferryhill Road, Newry, and a 17-year-old youth, who cannot be identified because of his age, appeared at Newry Magistrates Court yesterday.

They are accused of a number of offences including withholding information relating to an arrestable offence, concealing criminal property and evasion of Customs duty.

The court heard the pair were arrested by Customs officers on the grounds of the Bridge View industrial estate in Meigh after two police officers were knocked down by a van which ploughed through the roller door of a unit in an attempt to flee the area.

Both police officers were airlifted to hospital. One remains in a serious but stable condition. The other has since been released.

A prosecutor told the court that following their arrests the homes of the co-accused were searched and a number of items including mobile phones and computers were seized. Four vehicles have also been seized.

The pair were also found to have a quantity of euros on their person at the time of their arrests. The court also heard the van which struck the policemen was found badly damaged across the border outside the Thomastown church in Dromad.

Police have seized the vehicle for forensic examination. The driver of the van has yet to be caught.

During the hearing a detective constable said she could connect the accused to the charges and opposed bail on a number of grounds including fear of fleeing the jurisdiction and interference with witnesses.

However a defence barrister acting on behalf of both of the accused rejected the grounds arguing that there was no factual basis for police objections.

But the district judge disagreed and refused bail saying he was satisfied there was a risk of absconding given the gravity of the offences.

Both were remanded into custody and will reappear via videolink on July 28.

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