Belfast Telegraph

Pregnant woman accused of smuggling cannabis claims she was scouting for nail salon, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A woman accused of bringing £380,000 worth of cannabis into Northern Ireland claims she was scouting locations for a nail salon business venture, the High Court has heard.

A woman accused of bringing £380,000 worth of cannabis into Northern Ireland claims she was scouting locations for a nail salon business venture, the High Court heard.

Vua Mitchell was among three people arrested after police seized the drugs during an operation in Lisburn, Co Antrim last month.

The 29-year-old, originally from Vietnam and nearly four months pregnant, was granted bail.

Detectives recovered 19 kilos of herbal cannabis after stopping two vehicles at Ferguson Drive on August 22.

Mitchell, of Eleanor Place in Stockton On Tee, Durham, faces charges of possessing Class B drugs with intent to supply and being concerned in their supply.

She claims to have travelled from England seeking sites to open up a nail bar on either side of the Irish border.

According to her account a Vietnamese associate she met in Dublin asked her to take some clothes to someone in Northern Ireland known as "Fatman" - believed to be co-accused George Hamilton.

Mitchell told police she was to be paid 100 euros for driving north with another woman to make the delivery, insisting she had no idea the consignment contained cannabis.

Prosecution counsel Conor Maguire said CCTV footage showed her opening the boot of a hired Renault car at the Lisburn meeting point.

Hamilton, 48, of Ballycraigy Drive in Antrim, was seen loading the bags of drugs into his Transit van before police swooped.

Although officers detected a strong aroma of cannabis in Mitchell's car, the court heard she claimed hay fever left her with no sense of smell.

Defence barrister Jonathan Browne rejected concerns his client could flee, arguing that her pregnancy and associated sickness removed the risk.

He described Mitchell as a businesswoman who bought and sold goods online, exporting from her home to customers in England.

She came to Ireland after sensing a potential gap in the market, Mr Browne submitted.

He added: "There are really very few nail bars in greater Dublin and greater Belfast in comparison with the competition in Great Britain.

"She had spotted what she believed to be an opportunity. That's why she was (here)."

Madam Justice McBride was also told Mitchell cooperated with police by naming the Vietnamese man believed to be the ringleader.

Granting bail, the judge said: "The fact she is pregnant means she is likely to need and seek medical attention - that is something which will be difficult for her to go under the radar."

She ordered Mitchell to live under curfew at an address is Belfast, banned her from leaving Northern Ireland, and requested a £6,000 surety.

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