Northern Ireland's first cannabis factory 'under surveillance for six months'
Northern Ireland's first-ever underground cannabis factory was under police surveillance for six months, the High Court heard today.
Officers swooped on the purpose-built subterranean complex containing £350,000 worth of drugs after covertly recording suspects, prosecutors said.
Five men were arrested in the operation at a shed on the Derryneil Road, Castlewellan, Co Down on May 21.
One of them, Mark Cavanagh, faces charges of cultivating and possessing cannabis with intent to supply.
The 39-year-old, of Killutagh Rise, Glenavy, Co Antrim, was refused bail by a judge who said planning chiefs would have been impressed by the sophisticated extent of the factory's construction.
Searches of the premises uncovered a pit area leading off into three separate rooms containing drugs at different stages of growth.
A total of 600 plants were seized, along with lamps, hose piping and other equipment.
Walls were professionally fitted, wired and connected to an electricity source 80 metres away.
"It's described by police as unique in Northern Ireland - a purpose-built underground factory," prosecution barrister Fiona O'Kane said.
"The police have been carrying out an operation and recorded evidence within the last six months over a series of dates."
She claimed surveillance footage shows Cavanagh at the scene, and audio recordings of him "in the bowels" of the shed.
The accused denies either any involvement in the cannabis-growing operation or witnessing any illegal activity.
Defence counsel Sean Devine contended that his client has a viable case, pointing out that he was not near the pit when police arrived.
But after studying photographs from the scene Lord Justice Coghlin refused bail.
The judge said: "The evidence against him is that he was present at what can only be described as a very impressively constructed and designed cannabis factory in Castlewellan.
"Indeed, I'm quite sure that had it been subject to a planning application the degree of care, money and technology that went into it would have impressed the planners had they not known the real purpose of it."
He added: "Now that this factory has been discovered there may well be all sorts of repercussions for those who saw fit to put so much money into its construction."
Belfast Telegraph Digital