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Man accused of posting drugs to Northern Ireland from Amsterdam claims he only sent cheese, court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 08/02/2016

A Co Antrim man accused of importing consignments of cannabis during multiple trips to Amsterdam claims he only sent back cheese, the High Court heard today.

John Semple allegedly posted £60,000 worth of the drugs to Northern Ireland as part of a monthly travel itinerary spanning two years.

He was arrested at Belfast International Airport last week following a joint operation involving the PSNI and Dutch police.

Semple, 37, of Ballycregagh Road in Clough, near Ballymena, is charged with two counts each of fraudulently importing Class B drugs and being concerned in the supply of cannabis.

He is further accused of converting criminal property.

Bail was refused due to concerns he could potentially flee or re-offend.

Semple is allegedly linked to 2kg of herbal cannabis seized from another man's home in Ballymena in March last year.

Prosecution counsel Conor Maguire said the drugs, valued at £40,000, were sent in packages from the Netherlands two weeks earlier.

Inquiries with Easyjet confirmed Semple was in Amsterdam on a two-day trip at the same time, he added.

The court was told the accused's fingerprint was found on a sealed envelope inside the packages.

Further checks with the airline revealed he had been travelling from Belfast to Amsterdam twice a month for one-night stays since 2014.

"He had similar flight bookings up to October 2016," Mr Maguire said.

Last month Dutch police observed him at a rail station posting a package to an address in Ballyclare, according to the prosecution.

Intercepted by the PSNI at a Royal Mail sorting office, it contained another kilo of vacuum packed herbal cannabis with an estimated street value of £20,000.

Semple was stopped and detained at Belfast International Airport on February 2 as he was about to board a flight to Amsterdam.

Police searched him and seized a broken down cardboard box, packaging tape and more than 500 euros in cash.

Vacuum sealed bags and £1,000 in cash was later recovered from an address linked to him.

Mr Maguire continued: "During interview he gave an account that he travelled to Amsterdam to post cheese to his friends."

Opposing bail, the barrister claimed Semple is in serious financial difficulties over his mortgage and credit cards.

"The only income available to him is through the drugs trade," Mr Maguire alleged.

Defence counsel Gavin Cairns argued that his client legitimately held two passports.

He also stressed that Semple's fingerprints were not found on any of the packets containing the actual cannabis.

But despite the offer of a £5,000 cash surety from the accused's father, His Honour Judge Piers Grant refused bail.

He added: "The suggestion that he's importing cheese for his friends is probably best not to comment on."

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