Man (23) appears at Ballymena Court in relation to '£1 million' cannabis haul in Larne Harbour area

Man (23) appears at Ballymena Court in relation to '£1 million' cannabis haul in Larne Harbour area

A 23-YEAR-OLD man appeared at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday charged in connection with a '£1 million' cannabis haul at Larne Harbour.

Ciaran McAuley, with an address listed as Parkanore estate in Waterfoot in the Glens of Antrim is charged with offences including possession of a class B drug and possession of a class B drug with intent to supply.

The charges are in relation to the discovery of herbal cannabis with an estimated street value in excess of £1 million following the search of a lorry and trailer in the Larne Harbour area in the early hours of Tuesday November 30 by detectives from the PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), working as part of the joint agency Organised Crime Task Force.

The defendant appeared at court via a video link from custody in Belfast.

A detective constable believed he could connect the accused to the charges.

Objecting to bail he said the defendant was stopped at 2.10am in Larne after a lorry which had left a ferry from Cairnryan.

He said McAuley provided documentation for his cargo and when the trailer was checked by HMRC it was noted there were 15 "similar-packaged cardboard boxes" one of which was open and vacuum-packed bags of herbal cannabis were observed in it.

The other boxes were searched and similar packages were found.

There were 75 bags weighing 80 kilos with a value of "just over a million pounds".

When arrested the defendant gave an account of his movements from Saturday evening when he had gone over to Scotland.

He said he did a number of drop-offs before picking up his cargo and "denied any knowledge of how the boxes got into the lorry".

The police officer said a pick-up was made in Rugby and the defendant had returned to Cairnryan.

He said the drugs were amongst goods destined for a supermarket.

The officer said two phones were seized from the defendant and there are ongoing enquiries.

The officer said McAuley's family said he doesn't live at Parkanore estate anymore.

The defendant told police he "sleeps in his cab" even when he is at home in Northern Ireland.

The detective feared "further offences with drug-dealing on the rise and drug deaths rising continuously".

He said the defendant had a limited criminal record regarding motoring offences.

The policeman added: "Given the scale of the seizure and the loss of revenue for the crime gang that is involved in this, over a million pounds, police believe, historically-based on the modus operandi of such groups, it is likely Mr McAuley will be asked to commit to further runs to try and recoup the loss".

He said police believed more than one person was involved in the "importation" of drugs to Northern Ireland and enquiries were ongoing both here and in England.

"Police believe if Mr McAuley is released he will provide a full debrief to his criminal associates and seek to frustrate the police investigation," the officer added.

A defence lawyer said the defendant "knows nothing" about the drugs and "denies any involvement".

He said it was "an extremely weak case" and said there was "no evidence linking him to the drugs".

The lawyer said when the lorry was loaded a "metal seal was applied to the trailer by security staff" and on the seal is a code which can be identified on manifest documentation so that when it reaches its destination the receiver of the goods knows it was sealed since leaving England.

The lawyer said the seal was removed in Larne and it is in possession of police.

He said the code was the same code as on the manifest documentation and a firm said it had been applied before it left Rugby.

The police officer said there were a "number of markings" on the seal which was removed by the defendant when asked to do so by HMRC.

The lawyer said the driver "can't see what is being loaded onto the trailer" at a loading bay.

The lawyer said there were around five different types of boxes in the trailer "so it is the defence submission that you wouldn't see anything untoward even if you were doing an inspection of the vehicle".

He added: "It is Mr McAuley's case that because he does this so often, he simply closes the door and goes on his way".

The lawyer said the defendant had co-operated fully with police and said he had two mobile devices because one had a smashed screen and he had the second in case it stopped working.

The defence representative said now McAuley is on the police "radar" he "is the last person in the world that a criminal enterprise are likely to use to commit any further offences".

District Judge Nigel Broderick refused bail saying although it was an ongoing investigation when a driver's trailer is found with drugs it raises "significant suspicions".

The case was adjourned to December 30.