Man charged over 'gang-linked' £300k drugs haul is denied bail
A lorry driver has been remanded in custody over the discovery of £300,000 of cannabis allegedly linked to an organised crime gang operating between England and Northern Ireland.
Married father-of-two Christopher Walker was refused bail after the haul was found in a box in the cab of his lorry after he was stopped at Moorfields, near Ballymena, on Saturday morning as he drove away from Larne port towards Coleraine.
A police officer told Coleraine Magistrates Court she believed she could connect the 25-year-old, from Gilford Road, Scarva, Co Down to charges of possession of Class B drugs with intent to supply, to being concerned in the supply of drugs and to possession of drugs.
The officer said the PSNI had found a large box in the defendant's lorry containing 15 kilos of herbal cannabis.
She also told the court that the force had seized millions of pounds of drugs believed to be linked to the alleged gang.
When interviewed by police, the accused said he was approached several weeks ago on a ferry and asked if he would "take back stuff".
The court was told that after dropping off a load in London, Walker was given details of which ferry to take back to Northern Ireland, and that after meeting individuals in Haydock, near Liverpool, he was given a box to transport. It was alleged that the defendant had tried to make contact with a person on a phone, and when that did not happen when he arrived back home in Northern Ireland, he decided to continue on towards Coleraine.
The police officer said she believed the drugs were linked to individuals operating as part of an "organised crime gang" across England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
She also told the court there had been two similar seizures recently, through which approximately £2m of drugs had been taken off the streets.
A defence lawyer said his client believed he was taking back tobacco. However, the police officer claimed that Walker had acquired a different phone and had admitted to police that he had done so for his involvement in collecting the box. She added that this showed the defendant knew that what he was picking up was illegal.
The defence lawyer said that while Walker accepted having the package, he was just delivering it. "He is the courier," he added. "He is obviously not well-versed in this type of organisation to leave himself open to detection in such an amateur way."
The lawyer argued that Walker should be freed on bail and allowed to return to work as a lorry driver because he is the breadwinner in his household. He added his client had two young children and as such was unlikely to flee.
Deputy District Judge Liam McStay said people with good records were deliberately chosen by such gangs so they will be granted bail. He added that the court had a duty resist this sort of thinking "because it only encourages these gangs to recruit vulnerable people". The judge told the court the case involved "organised crime on a very big scale, and this is only one tentacle of it".
He said Walker had involved himself in the enterprise, and although his precise role remained unclear, the offence was very serious and extremely likely to attract a custodial sentence.
Judge McStay described the defendant as being at a high risk of re-offending because of the loss suffered by the alleged gang.
As he remanded the defendant in custody to appear at Ballymena Magistrates Court on June 2 via video link, the judge said it was of great regret that Walker's family "are going to have to pick up the pieces".