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£800k drug haul accused denied bail, High Court hears

A delivery driver accused of trying to smuggle more than £800,000 of cannabis into Northern Ireland thought he was picking up food packages, the High Court heard yesterday.

Counsel for Chris Connaughton (36) claimed that his client had known nothing about the consignment of drugs, which was hidden in pallets of orange juice.

Connaughton, from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, and three others charged with conspiracy to import class B drugs from Spain were detained after 167kgs of cannabis was found in a van in Camlough, south Armagh, on April 23 during a raid by the PSNI, the National Crime Agency and the Garda.

Officers had tracked the shipment through Spain, England and the Republic of Ireland before swooping, the court heard.

Applying for bail, Connaughton's solicitor Paddy Taggart said his client, who owns a courier business, was approached by an unnamed man in a pub and asked to pick up some pallets in Belfast for a €250 fee.

The collection point was then allegedly changed to Newry, with the fee being reduced to €200. "Mr Connaughton is known as the man with the van," Mr Taggart said.

"He was simply to pick up food pallets. This applicant has never been to Spain and he tells a simple story - he simply had no knowledge of this."

But refusing bail, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said a prima facie case had been established of Connaughton's alleged involvement in a well-planned drugs importation operation.

The judge added: "The risks of him committing further offences are too great to allow him to be released."

Belfast Telegraph