A Ballymena man who boasted in a text message "I am the only one that can get the big loads in" was jailed on Friday for the role he played in a drugs operation.
Handing Ian William Greer a five-year sentence, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said that while he accepted Greer was not the primary organiser, he was nonetheless an "important link in the chain", and the jail term was "both called for and justified."
Belfast Crown Court heard that while the amount of cannabis involved in the operation will never be known, the quantity could have amounted to over 125kg.
Greer - who following his arrest made the case he was acting under duress - was informed he will serve half his sentence in prison, with the remaining two and a half years spent on licence.
Prior to sentence being passed, Judge Miller was told by a Crown prosecutor that the 31-year old, from Queen Street, was arrested last March after police attended a courier company in Newtownabbey in relation to a suspicious pallet sent from Spain.
On March 2, 2016 officers identified the pallet, which was due to be delivered to an address in Randalstown, and when the packaging was opened, it contained a chest freezer. Within the freezer were 45 vacuum-sealed packages containing herbal cannabis.
The following day officers attended the business unit in Randalstown. Officers noticed a van parked at the side of the premises, and when they spoke to Greer, who was behind the wheel, they smelled cannabis.
The business premises was searched and a number of items - including cardboard boxes, packaging tape and invoices relating to a previous delivery - were seized. Also recovered were pallets and an empty box from a freezer unit similar to that used to store the cannabis uncovered the day before.
Telling the court "the lock up was clearly being used to break down the larger consignments for onward distribution", the Crown barrister said Greer was linked to the operation by fingerprint and other evidence, including rental agreements for the premises in question.
A police investigation revealed that other pallets were sent from the same source in Spain to "various bogus company addresses" in Co Antrim, and that the same modus operandi was used.
When Greer's mobile phone was seized and examined, officers found a text by Greer stating he had to lie low for a while but "had to get back into it coz it wasnt the same without me, they needed me .... I am the only one that can get the big loads in."
This text, the prosecutor said, displayed an "intimate connection with the drugs trade."
When Greer was arrested, he initially denied any knowledge of or involvement in the consignment of cannabis. He then said he had been forced to hand over his van, and later accepted he had collected a consignment under the orders of an organised gang. He also claimed he was acting under duress.
Greer subsequently admitted four drugs offences including being concerned in the supply of Class B drugs, and possessing cannabis.
Concluding the Crown case, the prosecutor said: "This was clearly a substantial drugs operation and the accused played a significant role in facilitating the safe receipt and onward distribution of the drugs in Northern Ireland.
Defence counsel Charles MacCreanor QC said that while his client accepted he played a part, his involved was limited and he was acting under duress.
Revealing Greer was a man with a low IQ and a moderate learning disability, Mr MacCreanor said his client's drug use and ensuing debts have resulted in his home being attacked.
The barrister also said "more sinister forces" were involved in the operation, that Greer had no influence over the people above him in the chain, and that he was in a position were he "could not step away."
As he sentenced Greer, Judge Miller said anyone involved in the drugs trade should expect to go to prison.