Belfast Telegraph

Coleraine gym owner accused of being 'drugs mastermind' denied bail

A gym owner accused of being a drugs "mastermind" following seizures valued at £220,000 must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mark Dunford was refused bail on charges linked to the recovery of amphetamine, cocaine and Ecstasy consignments.

The 38-year-old, of Ballylagan Lane, Coleraine, faces charges of conspiracy to supply Class A, B and C drugs, and encouraging or assisting offences.

He was arrested earlier this year as part of an ongoing investigation into a number of seizures made last September.

Amphetamines with an estimated street value of £20,000 were recovered from a car allegedly being driven by a co-accused in Ballymena.

A jar containing 1,100 Ecstasy tablets worth £11,000 was later found under shrubs in the front garden of that suspect's home.

As part of the same operation another man was arrested in Coleraine after cocaine valued at £15,000 was seized from another vehicle.

Further searches of a transit van led to the discovery of nine sealed bags of amphetamines inside a household oven.

According to the prosecution those drugs weighed 2kg and are estimated to be worth at least £180,000.

Dunford was detained after that suspect claimed he was told to collect the oven during a telephone conversation with "the main man", the court was previously told.

Call data and cell-site analysis allegedly links him to the operation.

Police believe a mobile phone used by the suspects travelled with him on a trip to England eight days before the initial arrests.

In court today James Johnston, defending, described the evidence against Dunford as entirely circumstantial.

During exchanges Mr Justice Treacy put to the barrister: "I don't know whether the other persons are alleged to be foot soldiers or something above that, but the police are making the case that your client Mr Dunford was the mastermind."

Mr Johnston responded that police had made assumptions after a co-accused referred to a main man giving him orders without naming Dunford.

"He maintains his innocence," the lawyer added.

A full financial investigation has also been carried out into the affairs of Dunford, who owns a gym business in Coleraine.

Despite this no attempt has been made to restrain any assets - pointing to a clean bill of health, according to the defence.

Cash sureties were available from Dunford's wife and a business associate who runs a karate club in the town.

However, bail was refused due to the risk of re-offending.

Mr Justice Treacy said: "He is described by police, through counsel, as the mastermind.

"On the basis of what the court has been told he has, at least on a prima facie basis, involved himself in well-organised, extremely serious drugs offences."

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