Court hears Belfast in grip of heroin epidemic as Mexican drug cartels attempt to smuggle in drug
A senior drugs counsellor spoke of a heroin epidemic in Belfast and said Mexican cartels were trying to import the Class A drug into Northern Ireland.
The social worker and drugs outreach counsellor also revealed that relevant organisations and initiatives in north, south and east Belfast have seen an 80% increase in individuals seeking help over the past three years.
The claims were made during a bail application made on behalf of a heroin addict accused of murdering Greenisland pensioner Eddie Girvan.
Maggie Henderson-McCarroll - who was described in court as a woman with a long-standing history of drug addiction - has already made several admissions to police about the circumstances surrounding the death of the 67-year old.
Belfast Crown Court heard that following her arrest on suspicion of his murder, the 30-year old told police that Mr Girvan paid her to have sex with him, that she spent the weekend in his house, and that on the morning he died - Monday January 18, 2016 - they had a row when he refused to pay her for sex.
It also emerged today that Mr Girvan - whose hands and ankles were bound together with neckties - had kitchen paper stuffed in his mouth which resulted in his tongue being pushed back and blocking his airway. He also sustained several stab wounds, including a serious injury to his chest which resulted in internal bleeding.
Opposing Henderson-McCarroll's release on bail, Crown prosecutor Robin Steer said that when she was arrested later that day, she admitted being in Mr Girvan's house.
She told police that during the row, Mr Girvan pushed her and struck out at her with a sword, and that she "poked him in the stomach."
Henderson-McCarroll, whose address was given as Hydebank Young Offenders Centre, also made the case that she gagged him because she didn't want to the neighbours to hear him.
She has, however, denied a host of offences including murder and is due to stand trial at Belfast Crown Court in the new year, where she will be claiming self defence and loss of control in the circumstances.
She was arrested in south Belfast, after allegedly selling a gold chain belonging to the victim for £60 at a Cash Convertors, by police on a bench warrant. The court heard that when arrested, Henderson-McCarroll was making her way to her dealer.
Outlining strong opposing to Henderson-McCarroll's release on bail, Mr Steer said the main concern held by police was that she would re-offend based on her "long-standing" addiction to heroin.
Defence barrister John McCrudden QC said that whilst he accepted that the "central issue" of concern was re-offending, he said Henderson-McCarroll "has the criminal record of a drug addict ... there is no two ways about it."
Mr McCrudden also told the court that despite being a heroin addict, and despite illicit drugs being widely available in prison, Henderson-McCarroll has been drugs-free since September, and has passed two tests.
To back this up, Mr McCrudden called a senior social worker who has worked with Henderson-McCarroll to give evidence.
Michael Foley, who is head of Belfast Trust's drugs outreach team, revealed that prior to her arrest for murder, Henderson-McCarroll had made several attempts to engage with the team.
Describing Henderson-McCarroll's life in January 2016 as "chaotic", Mr Foley said she used several drugs, including herion which she injected. He also revealed that due to her drugs use, Henderson-McCarroll was threatened by paramilitaries, had overdosed on several occasions and was also a sex worker.
When he was questioned about the availability of drugs in prison, Mr Foley said he was aware of an epidemic - but said this mirrored an epidemic on the outside.
Mr Foley spoke of an increase in those seeking help for heroin addiction in three of Belfast's four regions, as well as rising numbers of addicts using facilities such as needle exchanges.
He was also asked where the Class A drug was coming from.
The drugs expert replied by saying that production in Afghanistan has doubled due to politicial stability, as well as saying he had been told by the PSNI that "Mexican cartels are trying to import heroin into Northern Ireland".
When asked about Henderson-McCarroll's addiction, Mr Foley confirmed she was abstaining whilst in Hydebank which he said amounted to a level of stabililty.
Mr Foley said that if Henderson-McCarroll was granted bail, she could avail of a daily drop-in service and of a weekly therapy session offered by his organisation.
When Mr Justice Treacy heard about the availability of heroin in the community, he said it appeared the outside was a "dangerous place" for Henderson-McCarroll.
The Judge also questioned what would happen if Henderson-McCarroll was released on bail, obtained drugs, "goes off on one" and either seriously injures or even kills.
"How would we all look if that comes to pass?", asked Mr Justice Treacy.
Branding Mr Girvan's death as a "pretty horrific murder" and pointing out that Henderson-McCarroll had made several admissions to police, Mr Justice Treacy also spoke of her 96 previous convictions.
The Judge said she had "gone through the criminal catalogue" and was a "notorious drug user", adding that for bail "the fact that she may have been free of drugs for a short period of time in prison is a very very slim basis to consider."
Mr Justice Treacy said the accused was "someone who poses a lethal risk to other members of the community", saying it was up to the courts to "protect the community ... from serious violence."
The Judge added that whilst he wasn't without sympathy for Henderson-McCarroll, he had to keep his feet in the real world.
Mr Justice Treacy added: "She is making progress in the prison, albeit for a limited period. Why jeopardise that now?"
Telling defence barrister John McCrudden QC that the application was "premature", Mr Justice Treacy said he didn't have any expert reports or confirmation that a hostel in Belfast was willing to provide an address for Henderson-McCarroll.
The Judge then adjourned the application for bail, and said: "As things stand at the moment, I am not prepared to release her on bail, because of the grave risk she poses to the community. I am not persuaded to release her at this stage."
Addressing Henderson-McCarroll's barrister, Mr Justice Treacy said: "I am adjourning this application, but I am not encouraging you to come back again.
"Her trial date isn't far away. The court is in a position to start at the beginning of February ... which is not that far away."
Whilst Henderson-McCarroll remains in custody, the case will be reviewed again next week.