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Newtownards man Vannan involved in huge drug operation sentenced to three years

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Belfast Crown Court had been told that police recovered cocaine with a purity level ranging from 79 to 93%, and with a street value of £200,000, together with almost 9,000 Diazepam tablets (stock photo)

Belfast Crown Court had been told that police recovered cocaine with a purity level ranging from 79 to 93%, and with a street value of £200,000, together with almost 9,000 Diazepam tablets (stock photo)

Belfast Crown Court had been told that police recovered cocaine with a purity level ranging from 79 to 93%, and with a street value of £200,000, together with almost 9,000 Diazepam tablets (stock photo)

One of three men who admitted involvement in a massive "commercial drug operation" has been sentenced to three years in jail - but may not have to have to go to prison, because of time already served.

However, while releasing 48-year-old Gareth Vannon on continuing bail, Judge Patricia Smyth warned him that if he ever again came before the courts he could "expect an exceptionally lengthy custodial sentence".

Belfast Crown Court had been told that police recovered cocaine with a purity level ranging from 79 to 93%, and with a street value of £200,000, together with almost 9,000 Diazepam tablets.

Sentencing Vannon, from Anson Gardens, Newtownards, who admitted possession of Class A, B and C drugs on August 16, 2018, Judge Smyth said that when he told police the "drugs were planted on him" by others who had access to his home, "that clearly was a lie".

Vannon's two co-accused - William Courtney (45) of Glencairn Way, and Jordon Madine (27) of Coates Row, also Belfast - who both admitted being concerned in the supply of Diazepam, were freed after agreeing to serve two years on probation.

Vannan, said the judge, was the most culpable of the trio, and that it was in his home that the drugs were recovered.

Police found three lots of cocaine and 8,900 Diazepam tablets in searches of his living room, kitchen and a wardrobe.

They also uncovered over £650 in cash, along with a notebook containing names and amounts, either paid or owed, and a hand press.

Judge Smyth said it was accepted his offending was serious and "there is no doubt this was a commercial operation" and while Vannan might not have been "the owner of the drugs, he played a significant role as custodian and distributor".

However, the judge added that he was not "at the top of this commercial operation", and that his involvement stemmed from his need "to maintain your own supply of cocaine".

The judge said Madine, like Courtney, deserved credit for his guilty pleas, and that the best way for the public to be protected was for him to also undergo a period of probation.

Belfast Telegraph