Man ‘ran web drugs network’

A vast drugs distribution operation involving bitcoin deals on the dark web was run from a Coleraine man’s bedroom to fund his gambling habit, Belfast High Court heard.

Richard Sinclair allegedly used an “ingenious” system to dupe couriers into delivering MDMA and other substances in transactions worth more than £200,000 in total.

Some drugs linked to a European-wide investigation were to be sent through the post hidden inside jigsaw puzzles, prosecutors revealed.

Sinclair, 32, was arrested after police seized ecstasy pills, herbal cannabis and diazepam tablets worth an estimated £100,000 during separate raids at his Cranagh Road, Coleraine address and the home of a co-accused in east Belfast.

Kyle Hall, 25, of Chamberlain Street in the city, was also detained in the searches carried out on August 26.

Both men are jointly charged with conspiracy to supply and possessing Class A drugs with intent to supply.

Sinclair is further accused of transferring criminal property, while Hall faces additional charges of having Class B and C drugs with intent to supply and possessing criminal property.

The pair, described in court as wholesale drug suppliers, were refused bail amid fears of potential re-offending.

Opposing their release, a prosecution lawyer said police discovered Sinclair in his bedroom destroying evidence on an encrypted memory stick.

Hundreds of drugs transactions were displayed on a nearby computer when officers entered.

“The material on the screen gave a vast amount of information about the alleged involvement of Sinclair in the sale of drugs between July 2014 and August 2015,” the lawyer claimed.

“It listed customer names, email and delivery addresses, types of drugs, quantities, purchases and sales believed to be in excess of £204,000.”

Examination of the computer showed Sinclair intended to start selling up to 1,000 MDMA tablets a week to a select list of around a dozen customers, the court heard.

Police also seized five sealed packages from his home. Two addressed to Hall contained DVD boxes with £1,500 in cash in each, according to the prosecution.

The other three parcels had 60g of suspected MDMA powder.

Another £6,000 in cash and quantities of LSD tablets were also recovered.

As those searches were being carried out police were alerted to a parcel addressed to Sinclair being left at a courier depot in Belfast.

It contained two jigsaw puzzles with a total of 3,000 MDMA and other psychedelic pills with a potential street value of £40,000.

CCTV footage allegedly showed Hall had left the parcel at the depot.

Police searched his home and seized 1,000 ecstasy tablets, 120 boxes each containing 28 diazepam pills, 2kg of herbal cannabis, 500g of crystal MDMA and £7,500 in cash, the court heard.

Setting out admissions made by Sinclair during police interviews, the barrister said: “He outlined a process by which he buys and sells controlled drugs via the dark net and dispatches them to his customers in the post.”

Supplies were purchased using bitcoin currency, with some payments received by money transfer.

“It’s a complex investigation involving mainland Europe, in particular the Netherlands, and it’s at a very early stage,” the prosecutor explained.

She claimed the vast majority of Sinclair’s customers are in England, with around a dozen based in Northern Ireland.

“Police have described his method as ingenious, it managed to fool the postal system, for up to 20 months.”

The court also heard how examinations of his bank records revealed more than £200,000 has gone to his bookmaker’s betting account.

Despite Sinclair’s admissions, defence counsel Michael Boyd argued that he did not fit the profile of a high-flying drug supplier.

“He commenced this operation in an almost experimental way to provide himself with some extra money for his gambling habit,” Mr Boyd said.

“It simply mushroomed and got out of control, he was doing an awful lot of transactions as he has admitted.”

The barrister added: “This was all being conducted in the privacy of his own bedroom, almost with unbelievable ease.”

Although Hall also made some admissions, he denied conspiring with Sinclair in the racket.

Mr Justice Deeny was told he claimed to operate a legitimate internet-based DVD supply business.

But citing the risk of re-offending, the judge ruled: “It’s clear that it is my duty to refuse bail to both these men.”