Belfast Telegraph

Priest offers to accompany drug-accused to daughter's christening, court is told

By Staff Reporter

A judge has asked for written assurances from a priest who is willing to accompany a man on cocaine charges if he is released to attend his daughter's christening.

Gabriel Palko (22) of Ridgeway Manor, Moy was arrested following a police raid at his home on January 18, during which a package was recovered containing a combination of pure and mixed cocaine worth a street value of £100,000.

During interview Palko, who is originally from Romania, claimed he was in debt to drug lords who trafficked him to Northern Ireland six years ago, and of whom he remains in fear, following alleged threats.

He contended as part of the outstanding debt, he was asked to hold a package for a time and agreed, but claimed he never looked in the bag, although he knew it contained drugs.

He was charged with possession and intending to supply cocaine, and efforts to obtain bail were unsuccessful, after strenuous objections from police.

At the most recent sitting of Dungannon Magistrates Court, an application was made for compassionate bail, to attend the baby's christening next month, which a defence solicitor described as "a one-off, seminal event for all concerned".

He stated a priest was prepared to act as "chaperone" throughout any release and had advised police of this earlier this month.

However, an officer involved in the investigation remained opposed to bail, even for a short time, due to concerns of absconding and witness interference.

The officer said: "We believe the defendant has involved himself in criminality and that he is linked to the supply of drugs in the Mid Ulster area.

"In addition he seeks to be permitted to attend the christening in an area from where alleged threats against him are emanating.

"We would therefore be unable to protect him."

Under cross-examination, the officer said that he was unable to clarify if Palko actually holds a passport, and on being further pressed on the suitability of the priest acting as chaperone, replied: "He cannot offer reassurance."

The officer told the court that the safety of the defendant would not be the priest's responsibility and that the reported threats were coming from Portadown, while the accused wanted to visit Moyraverty.

He added: "This is problematic for police to ensure the safety of all concerned."

District Judge John Meehan said that he could be persuaded to allow a short release to attend the christening, if the priest is willing to accompany him at all times whilst he is out of custody.

He requested the priest to provide assurances in writing to the court and the application for bail is to be considered again next week.

Belfast Telegraph

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