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Lorry driver accused of bringing £1m of herbal cannabis to Northern Ireland 'thought it was contraband cigarettes', court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 14/04/2016

A lorry driver accused of bringing a £1 million consignment of herbal cannabis into Northern Ireland claims he thought it was contraband cigarettes, a court heard today.

Police seized more than 50 kilos of the drugs transported from England in flower boxes when they stopped and searched two vehicles in Belfast on January 26.

Gerard Bates, a 25-year-old HGV driver from Watsonville in Lurgan, Co Armagh, was arrested with Robert Byrne, 37, of Moneymore in Drogheda, Co Louth.

Both men are charged with possessing Class B drugs with intent to supply, and being concerned in its supply.

Bates faces an additional count of unlawfully supplying cannabis to another person.

Although previously granted bail, he returned to Belfast Magistrates' Court seeking to have a curfew lifted and permission to resume full driving duties.

His lawyer argued that he needed to return to employment to help pay the mortgage.

But police opposed the move, claiming that a Dublin-based crime gang was behind the attempt to import the cannabis from England.

A detective confirmed Bates has alleged that he believed he was bringing in tobacco.

But she claimed: "He had them in the back of his lorry and he hid them there."

Refusing the application to vary bail terms, District Judge Peter King told Bates: "I have huge concerns about the amount of drugs that are involved.

"At the height of your case you thought you were involved in the importation of contraband cigarettes.

"You're very fortunate that you are in the community and not remanded in custody."

Bates was told to return to court in June for an update on the case.

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