Belfast Telegraph

Home News

The details read just like one of the scripts from Breaking Bad

By Deborah McAleese

It's a case that could have come straight from an episode of the popular US crime drama Breaking Bad.

The TV phenomenon gave crystal meth the Hollywood treatment through the story of chemistry teacher-turned-drug baron Walter White and his methamphetamine partner Jesse Pinkman.

Co Down man Brendan Toner is awaiting trial in Hong Kong for allegedly attempting to smuggle the highly addictive stimulant into Australia.

He was arrested at Hong Kong Airport as he attempted to board a flight after large quantities of the drug were allegedly discovered hidden in the lining of his case. Six other men and two women have been arrested as part of the same policing operation into the trafficking of crystal meth - also known as ice - from Hong Kong into Australia and New Zealand.

All of the defendants are aged between 44 and 75, which is unusual in drug trafficking cases.

While Toner, from Castlewellan, has so far remained silent about the case, some of his co-accused have claimed that they were all victims of a west African crime syndicate that grooms vulnerable people online into taking an all-expenses-paid trip to Hong Kong on the lure of a financial deal, a romance, an inheritance or a humanitarian project.

Once in Hong Kong, they claimed they were handed luggage to take to Australia, which they did not know contained 'ice' hidden in the lining or in items inside.

During a bail hearing in September a defence lawyer claimed that one of the accused had been warned by members of the Australian Federal Police that he might be the victim of a scam before he left Brisbane Airport for Hong Kong late last year.

Former acquaintances of Toner, who moved to England from Castlewellan several years ago, have expressed surprise at his arrest.

"I would have known Brendan many years ago during his football days," said one former friend.

"He played for Down and was Mr Adonis, a real ladies' man. The girls loved him. He was a giant of a man. Everyone liked him.

"He was a likeable big lad, a soft big fella. He was the sort who would have stood in the middle of a fight to stop it.

"I haven't seen or heard from him in many years, but growing up he was a top bloke."

Another said: "I wouldn't be surprised if he had been duped into this. I remember him as a gullible big fella. The Benji (Brendan) I remember wouldn't have meant to have got involved in something like that. But I haven't seen him in about 20 years."

The group of alleged drug smugglers were given a glimmer of hope in April when 83-year-old New York socialite Elizabeth Kummerfeld had her drug smuggling charges dropped in Hong Kong.

Ms Kummerfeld was caught at Hong Kong Airport en route to Australia with 2kg of ice in the lining of a backpack.

Her charges were dropped when an investigation by Hong Kong Customs found she was a victim of a west African drug scam. In an elaborate email con, she was convinced by a man posing as a Nigerian banker to travel from New York to Hong Kong and on to Australia to collect and deliver what she was told would be contracts for a multi-million-dollar compensation payment, but was instead handed a backpack lined with drugs in Hong Kong.

If Toner is convicted of drug smuggling he faces spending the rest of his life behind bars in a Hong Kong jail.

He would most likely serve his sentence at the maximum security Stanley Prison - listed by support groups as among the toughest jails in the world.

Built in 1937, Stanley was the site of the last execution in Hong Kong and was a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War.

It's a tough regime, with adult prisoners required to work six days a week, and there are usually between two and four inmates to a small cell.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph