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Newry woman pleads guilty to raft of drug and fake goods charges

The charges disclose she had £13,391 of criminal property and was also trading in fake merchandise from Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC

Whitney Hughes

A woman described by police as “head of an organised crime gang” – and daughter of a drug feud murder victim – has entered guilty pleas to a raft of charges relating to drugs and counterfeit goods.

Standing in the dock of Newry Crown Court on Wednesday, 31-year-old Whitney Hughes entered guilty pleas to 10 of the 16 charges against her with the indictment covering a time span between April 27 and July 4, 2022.

In total Hughes, originally from Ardcarn Park in Newry but now with a different Co Down bail address, admitted seven drug offences relating to possessing and supplying cocaine, MDMA and steroids, two counts of trading in counterfeit goods and one of possessing criminal property.

The charges disclose that Hughes had £13,391 of criminal property and also that she was trading in fake merchandise from Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC.

Following Hughes’ confessions prosecuting counsel Geraldine McCullough asked for the remaining six charges, all of which are drug offences, to be marked as “left on the books”, an application granted by Judge Paul Ramsey KC.

None of there surrounding circumstances were opened in court on Wednesday, but when Hughes was first charged in July 2022, the court heard the charges arise as a result of searches and seizures of a lock up storage container on the Mountain Road in the city.

At that stage Detective Constable McAteer outlined how police believe she “plays a small part in a larger organised crime gang” after officers from the organised crime unit uncovered the “full spectrum” of drugs including seven kilos of cannabis, 200 grams of cocaine, bundles of cash and counterfeit football clothing.

In addition, police also found “scales and other drug paraphernalia” along with a gold plated iPhone stamped “gold for you first edition” and a “gold for you business card” which matches Hughes’ business name.

“That’s a product that her business purports to offer,” the detective explained, adding that police had also found a ‘gold for you’ business card in the container and that the cash was held together with a hair clip that had “long dark hair on it” which has been sent for DNA testing.

Police enquiries established that the phone number on the business card was associated with Hughes and also that the container had been rented out in her name with her mobile number also registered in the rental agreement.

Arrested and interviewed, Hughes remained silent throughout and Det. Const. McAteer said given her refusal to answer police questions, the police had no evidence as to what her lawful income might be.

Just a few months later in November 2022 two hit men tried to murder her father in Dundalk and the court hard how police feared there was a cross border drug feud between rival gangs vying to be top dog.

A month later in December 2022, Hughes’ father, Mark ‘The Chicken’ Lovell was gunned down in Newry in a killing believed to have been ordered by a local drug gang.

Lovell (58) was shot a number of times at close range inside his car while he was parked outside the home of a relative at Ardcarn Park in Newry on December 1, 2022.

Mark Lovell

Mark Lovell

To date, no one has been charged or made amenable for the assassination.

Speaking in the wake of Lovell’s murder, PSNI District Commander for Newry, Mourne and Down, Norman Haslett, described the attack on a “defenceless man” as “brutal and senseless”.

“We believe those responsible went to great lengths to plan this attack and that they lay in wait for their victim to come home and essentially ambushed him and executed him,” he said. “The victim was a husband, a father and a son. He was shot multiple times at close range.

“The level of violence used was reprehensible, particularly given the time of the day – tea-time on a week night in a busy residential area of Newry with people coming home from work.”

Last November, when Hughes made an application to vary her bail to allow her and her boyfriend to go to Dublin for a weekend, a detective told the court: “She has quite a network in that area and is the head of an organised crime group in Newry.”

In court on Wednesday, defence counsel Craig Patton applied for Hughes to be granted bail pending a completion of a pre-sentence report from the probation board while Ms McCullough applied for confiscation proceedings to be formally adjourned.

Granting each of those applications, Judge Ramsey advised Hughes to “give probation as much information as possible” and ordered her to appear for sentencing on March 26.

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