Former GAA star due back in court on drugs charges
A Northern Ireland man accused of smuggling highly addictive crystal meth out of Hong Kong will appear in court this week.
Former Down GAA star Brendan Toner (62) is charged with attempting to smuggle the powerful illegal drug - also known as 'ice' - from Hong Kong to Australia.
The drugs were discovered hidden in the Castlewellan man's luggage as he prepared to board a flight from Hong Kong last year.
He previously appeared in court along with eight other foreign nationals who face similar charges.
They were all arrested on separate occasions at Hong Kong International Airport between April last year and March this year shortly before they were due to board flights to Australia.
Four co-defendants from Australia claimed that they were the victims of a west African crime syndicate.
Each was caught with between 1.5kg and 4kg of crystal methamphetamine hidden in their luggage.
They claimed that the gang groomed vulnerable people online into taking an all-expenses paid trip to Hong Kong after being lured in by a financial deal, a romance, an inheritance or a humanitarian project.
After arriving in Hong Kong, they said they were handed luggage to take to Australia, which they did not know contained drugs hidden in the lining or in items inside.
All have been charged with one count of trafficking dangerous drugs and were being represented by solicitors arranged by the Legal Aid Department in China.
Toner, who moved to England from Castlewellan several years ago, travelled to Hong Kong on April 13, 2014 from Newcastle Upon Tyne.
He was then due to travel on to Australia on April 21, 2014, but was arrested at the airport.
He was charged with one count of trafficking dangerous drugs - an offence which carries a 20-year prison sentence - and will appear in the High Court this Friday.
The defendants were represented by barristers Gerard McCoy SC and Michael Arthur of Gilt Chambers.
Two days after his last court appearance, the Co Down man shared pictures on his Facebook page of his time in Hong Kong.
Down District SDLP councillor, Laura Devlin said Toner comes from a "highly respected and hard-working family in Castlewellan".
"The family's reputations are impeccable and I understand Brendan is now out on bail after nearly a year in custody," she said. "The story is awful.
"I really hope the family receive some good news soon as it's been an extremely turbulent few months for them all."