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Man accused of conspiracy to murder and drug charges refused bail despite £20,000 surety offer

His defence argued: 'Most of these applications are determined on what previous convictions people have. The majority have got bail apart from those with significant convictions'

Armagh Magistrates Court

A Tandragee man accused of conspiracy to murder and a litany of drugs offences has been refused bail.

Court heard that the charges against the 43-year-old arose from Operation Venetic, the UK’s biggest law enforcement move against organised criminality.

Darran McConville, of Market Street Court, is charged with conspiracy to murder, entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property, being concerned in supply of Class A, conspiracy to possess Class A with intent to supply, conspiracy to possess Class B with intent to supply, conspiracy to cultivate cannabis and conspiracy to import Class B.

At Armagh Magistrates’ Court, sitting at Newry on Tuesday, defence barrister Stephen Toal told court that a bail application would be made in the absence of his client.

Prosecuting barrister Robin Steer outlined that this defendant has been in custody since the beginning of September and had been refused bail by the High Court on November 9.

Mr Toal said a number of other accused had been released, including a man who appeared alongside this accused during his first appearance back on September 2.

“There are about 20 others who are linked to this Operation Venetic who have been granted bail and the prosecution have tried to draw a distinction in various applications.”

District Judge Paul Copeland commented: “Forgive me, Mr Toal that has already been tried and tested this perceived distinction, and it has been endorsed not only by a court of concurrent jurisdiction but also by a High Court judge.

“Apart from filling in a bit of history here, how does it affect this application?”

Mr Toal stated that the man who appeared alongside his client had been released on his second application to the High Court, with the judge on that occasion saying “courts must ensure a quality of treatment between various accused”.

District Judge Copeland said: “I want you to tell me why the quality of treatment compels me to have this man released.”

Mr Steer stated that the sole objection to the defendant’s release was the risk of further offences and this was based on his record.

It was outlined that McConville had 11 previous convictions for drugs, the most recent being for possession of Class A with intent to supply and cultivating cannabis from 2013.

He stated that the man who appeared alongside McConville had one previous conviction for possession of Class A while he had two sets of convictions.

“Most of these applications are determined on what previous convictions people have,” he added. “The majority have got bail apart from those with significant convictions.”

Mr Steer added: “Of the ones who are left in custody, they are probably higher in terms of their role than this applicant would be.”

Mr Toal stated: “I am grateful to Mr Steer for the concession about the role. It was very fair for him to outline it in that way. I would invite your worship to consider this man’s personal history of compliance.

“Whilst he does have a record, he has demonstrated that he can remain offence-free whilst on bail and indeed in the most recent seven year period, as you can see from his record, he had managed to turn his life around.”

He continued: “There is evidence that this man is capable of living a crime-free life and complying with the rules. It is for that reason his brother, Dr Christopher McConville, a well-respected academic who isn’t fooled easily, is offering a substantial cash surety to the court of £20,000.

“This is the first time that this man has intervened in his brother’s affairs and we would invite your worship to the conclusion that this is a very significant development.”

District Judge Copeland stated: “Bail is always a complex and difficult issue no matter how strong the competing views and I am aware of the presumption of innocence.

“What it boils down to here is whether or not the applicant is being disfavoured or less favourably treated, whenever all of the factors are put into the mix.”

He continued: “I’ve no doubt that his family are supportive and that very significant gestures are being made to support him in the context of his being able to live a responsible and crime-free existence.

“The fact that a co-accused has been released isn’t instantly a reason for comparative discharge. Each case has to be considered on its merits.”

The district judge added: “Supporting his current remand in custody is his appalling record and there is an understandable fear of reoffending. This is a man with multiple convictions for serious drugs offences.

“There is a balance here to be struck between the liberty of the individual and the concerns expressed by police. On balance I don’t feel I can release this man.”

Bail was refused and the case was adjourned until January 19 for an update.

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