Local men were part of ‘organised drugs gang’

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TWO men - one from Coleraine and the other from Portglenone - were part of an organised crime gang supplying and transporting drugs across Northern Ireland, police alleged in court on Monday.

The claims by the PSNI were made at a court in Coleraine where an officer said the street value of the drugs recovered was estimated to be in excess of £200,000.

26-year-old Steve Richard McBride, of Foundry Court, Coleraine, and 38-year-old Robert Holmes, a taxi driver, of Glenone Villas, Portglenone, were remanded in custody.

Both accused face charges including possession of drugs with intent to supply and also possession of illegal drugs.

The men appeared in court after police seized amounts of drugs last week in the Ballymena and Coleraine areas including ‘speed’, cocaine and ecstasy.

During the operation police also seized five vehicles which they believe were used in the course of commiting serious crime, namely the supply of controlled drugs.

A PSNI constable told North Antrim Magistrates’ Court in Coleraine on Monday he believed he could connect both accused - who sat side by side in the dock - to the charges.

Defence solicitors made applications for bail but that was opposed by a Public Prosecution Service lawyer and the accused were remanded in custody with the case coming back to the same court, via video link, on October 29.

Opposing bail, the investigating police officer said on Friday, September 28, police stopped a car in the Ballymena area, which was being driven by Holmes and amphetamines were found in the driver’s footwell and later a vehicle being driven by McBride was searched and a package with 0.3 of a kilo of cocaine was found.

The officer said keys were also discovered for a Ford Transit van and nine sealed packages containing 18 kilos of amphetamine - worth £20,000 per kilo - were found.

Follow-up searches took place at the homes of both accused and 1,100 Ecstasy tableers were found in a jar in the garden of Holmes’ property.

The officer said McBride admitted collecting the drugs for delivery and Holmes said he believed he was picking up car parts.

The PSNI officer said: “We believe they are part of an organised crime gang supplying Class A and B drugs in the Coleraine and Ballymena area.”

He said McBride said he was working for another person who he refused to name and that five vehicles seized by police were provided to him to carry out the movement of drugs.

A defence solicitor for McBride said that during interview his client said he had a drug debt and he was asked to transport the drugs to pay off that drugs debt and he claimed that at no stage was it put to his client by police that he owned the drugs.

The PSNI officer said they believed the last person detected with drugs is the one who has to pay for the drugs and he feared that both accused would re-offend to recoup the losses.

But McBride’s defence lawyer said: “What right-thinking drug dealer would go to McBride now? It is very unlikely that secretive drugs barons are going to go to him and possibly make themselves known to police.”

The defence solicitor said if his client was released on bail there was an available address outside Coleraine but the police officer said police believe the drugs transportation was taking place across Northern Ireland and not just in the Coleraine area.

A defence solicitor for Holmes said both accused had not recognised each other and she said her client had provided a full explanation as to how the package came to be in the vehicle and he thought he was collecting a car part.

The investigating police officer said a large jar of Ecstasy tablets was also found in the garden of Holmes’ house but the defence solicitor said there was no drugs or drugs paraphenalia found inside the house to suggest he was supplying drugs but the police officer said it is the PSNI’s belief that the accused is part of an organised gang.

Holmes’ solicitor said there is no evidence her client is involving in bringing in drugs for dealers but instead he works six days a week and lives a “modest” lifestyle.

Opposing bail, a prosecution lawyer said there is a very real risk of re-offending and that the case involves a “very serious drugs haul” and then Ecstasy was found in Holmes’ front garden.

Turning to McBride, the PPS lawyer said he was also opposing bail in his case as police believe he is involved in transporting drugs throughout the province.

District Judge Richard Wilson said he was not prepared to accede to bail as there is a significant risk of further offences to recoup very considerable losses.