Belfast Telegraph

Tasered joiner 'was producing cocaine on an industrial scale'

A 40-year-old joiner who travelled around Ireland building sets for theatre companies was an
A 40-year-old joiner who travelled around Ireland building sets for theatre companies was an "active member of the drugs trade," a court heard yesterday

By Ashleigh McDonald

A 40-year-old joiner who travelled around Ireland building sets for theatre companies was an "active member of the drugs trade," a court heard yesterday.

Mark William McPhillips was one of three men stopped in a car at Fortwilliam roundabout on the M2 in Belfast last July. Officers stopped the vehicle under the Misuse of Drugs Act and deployed a Taser due to what they believed was non-compliance.

A small quantity of drugs was found in the car. During a further search at a storage unit in Ballymena linked to McPhillips, around 150 grams of high-purity cocaine was located, along with a mixing agent, a hydraulic press and scales.

A prosecutor said: "It is the police's view this unit was being used to mix cocaine and to produce it on an industrial scale."

McPhillips and co-accused Sean Rooney (40) - the driver of the vehicle stopped by police in July last year - were told by Judge Patricia Smyth they would be sentenced on a range of drugs offences in September.

Before she adjourned the sentencing, Judge Smyth heard the vehicle was stopped by police at Fortwilliam on the evening of July 26 last year. A third man, who was a back seat passenger, "is not before the court".

The prosecutor told Belfast Crown Court police "were required to Taser one of the occupants when he failed to comply".

The occupant was McPhillips, the front seat passenger, who was unable to comply immediately as he was on crutches due to a broken ankle.

When the car was stopped and searched, a bag containing 1.81 grams of cocaine was located, along with a quantity of tapentadol tablets.

McPhillips and Rooney were arrested and searches were carried out at their homes.

Officers found a small amount of herbal cannabis in Rooney's Oceanic Avenue property in Belfast. Nothing was found at McPhillips' house at Wood End in Holywood.

A storage unit in Ballymena linked to McPhillips was searched and 150 grams of cocaine with a purity of 83% was located, along with 10 kilograms of a mixing agent. Also found was a small quantity of cannabis, along with 859 diazepam tablets.

The prosecutor told Judge Smyth there was a dispute about the value of the cocaine, but it was somewhere between £42,000 and £87,000.

McPhillips was interviewed on several occasions. While he initially denied any knowledge of the cocaine in the lock-up, he later made full admissions. McPhillips is due to be sentenced for six offences, including possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

He told police that on the day of his arrest, he asked Rooney to drive him to a hospital appointment in Dublin.

The prosecutor said the Crown accepted Rooney had nothing to do with the production of cocaine at the unit and that the small amount of cannabis found in his home was for personal use. He admitted possessing both drugs.

It emerged that while both men have criminal records, McPhillips has a "significant record" for drugs offences, including a prison sentence for importing cannabis in 2013.

Judge Smyth said that, in her view, McPhillips was "an active member of the drugs trade".

Neil Moore, the barrister representing McPhillips, accepted his client's record was "appalling". He said that while in prison for a previous drugs offence, McPhillips took up joinery, and that when he left prison, he set up his own joinery business "travelling around Ireland building sets for theatre companies".

Defence barrister Joel Lindsay, representing Rooney, said that regarding the cocaine, his client was asked to go to the lock-up, obtain it and bring it back out to the car. Mr Lindsay said that as a result of a personal family tragedy, Rooney's employment and mental health suffered and that he had to take on part-time work as a driver, which is when he met McPhillips.

Judge Smyth said she would pass sentence on September 6.

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