A Traveller from County Cavan caught smuggling £900,000 of cannabis across the border believed he was actually delivering “knock off” Canadian Goose jackets, a court heard on Friday.
Newry Magistrates’ Court also heard that 41-year-old Brian Anthony McDonagh claimed he knew nothing about the 60 kilos of herbal cannabis police uncovered in the back of his van when it was stopped at an HMRC diesel check point on the A1 near Loughbrickland.
Appearing at court by videolink from police custody, McDonagh, a member of the Travelling Community from Springfield in Cavan, confirmed he was aware of the five charges against him, alleging that on 26 May this year, he had cannabis, possessed the class B drug with intent to supply, was concerned in the supply of cannabis, imported cannabis and obstructed a person searching for drugs.
Giving evidence to the court, Constable McAteer said she believed she could connect McDonagh to each of the charges, adding that police had objections to jail due to fears that he would abscond or commit further offences.
She outlined how McDonagh had been driving a Vauxhall Vivaro van up the A1 when he was ordered to pull into a lay-by close to Loughbrickland.
Cardboard boxes in the back of the van were found to contain 60 kilos of vacuum packed herbal cannabis, estimated to have a street value up to £900,000, said the officer, adding that as the search was being conducted, McDonagh “fled from the van” but was arrested in a field a short distance away.
During police interviews, McDonagh claimed that making arrangements through a man he named only as James, he met two males in a lay-by in Ballinasloe who loaded the boxes into the van and he was to be paid £500 to deliver them to “the market at the airport” which police believe is Nutts Corner market.
He further claimed he believed the boxes contained “knock off” Canadian Goose jackets and denied any knowledge of cannabis, maintaining that his DNA would not be on the boxes.
“It’s clearly a substantial amount of cannabis and should it have hit the streets, it would then have been distributed throughout Northern Ireland,” said Constable McAteer, who told the court police believe McDonagh is “part of some sort of criminal network”.
She added since the seizure represented “a loss of nearly a million pounds of drugs to someone”, there was a risk of further offences being committed.
Defence solicitor John Rocks argued that, in fact, McDonagh had not tried to flee from the van but was going into the field to urinate when he was arrested and that he “almost passed out” when he heard what was in the back of his van.
He submitted that with a package of bail conditions, coupled with a £10,000 cash surety his family had managed to gather together, father-of-five McDonagh could be granted bail.
District Judge Eamon King said it appeared that McDonagh had been “employed as a mule to move these items from A to B…these are serious matters and this is a substantial amount of drugs”.
The district judge said he was refusing bail on the grounds of a risk of further offences being committed so McDonagh was remanded into custody and his case adjourned to June 23.