Lorry driver 'thought cannabis was tobacco'
A lorry driver accused of bringing £400,000 worth of herbal cannabis into Northern Ireland thought it was tobacco, the High Court heard today.
John White, 32, allegedly loaded up five boxes of the drugs while in England collecting bread for a supermarket delivery.
Police seized the consignment after it was transferred to a waiting car at a south Belfast retail park last Sunday, a judge was told.
White, of Crew Road, Maghera, was arrested as he waited for his legitimate cargo to be unloaded at a Tesco distribution centre in the Boucher area.
He faces charges of having, supplying and conspiracy to supply Class B drugs.
Two other men detained in Belfast and Banbridge as part of the same police operation have also been charged with conspiracy to supply the cannabis.
As White applied for bail the court was told he drove his Scania lorry to meet a man in a Volkswagen Passat after returning on the ferry from Cairnryan.
Kate McKay, prosecuting, said he was observed putting on surgical gloves to help transfer five boxes into the car.
Police later seized three packages from the co-accused's vehicle and two more at his home on Ghent Place.
Twenty kilos of the drugs, with an estimated £400,000 street value, was recovered in total.
According to the prosecution telephone evidence links the three suspects to the case.
Mrs McKay claimed the co-accused detained in Banbridge tried to destroy his phone by throwing it against the wall of his apartment as police entered.
She said White provided a prepared statement admitting his involvement in picking up boxes from a man to bring back to Northern Ireland.
"Though he would say he thought the parcels contained tobacco and that he had no knowledge of the drugs," she added.
Michael Bloyd, defending, said the offer of work was first put to his client when he got talking to a man on a previous ferry crossing.
"He was only able to do it because he was delivering a legitimate job to England and collecting bread in Rugby to bring back to the Tesco distribution centre on the Boucher Road," the barrister told the court.
"He was able to pick up these boxes which he had been told were tobacco, continue on his journey to Cairnryan and back to Northern Ireland."
Mr Boyd contended that at the height of the prosecution case White was just a "runner", rather than a "director of operations" as alleged against a co-accused.
After being told that a £5,000 cash surety was available, Lord Justice Higgins said he wanted time to consider the bail application.
He is expected to give his decision on Monday.