Northern Ireland news

Man jailed over £1m cocaine haul pictured with senior DUP figures at party meeting

Mark Officer, and the photo posted by the DUP's north Belfast branch on Twitter
Brendan Hughes

A MAN jailed over a cocaine haul worth nearly £1m has been pictured attending a DUP meeting with senior party figures including Arlene Foster.

Loyalist bandsman Mark Officer was handed a 40-month sentence in 2015 for being involved in the supply of the Class A drug.

The north Belfast man has applied to join the DUP and last week attended a party annual general meeting for the constituency.

He was pictured alongside senior DUP figures including party leader Arlene Foster, deputy leader Nigel Dodds, MLAs Paula Bradley and William Humphrey and former Stormont minister Nelson McCausland.

The image was posted on Twitter by the DUP's north Belfast branch, but was later removed.

A message tweeted with the photo read: "An honour to have DUP leader Rt Hon Arlene Foster MLA as guest speaker at our constituency association annual general meeting this evening."

The DUP last night defended Officer's attendance, saying he has served his jail term and now wants to "make a positive contribution to society".

The tweet from DUP's north Belfast branch was later deleted

Officer, from Glenbryn Drive, was 41 when he was sentenced in May 2015 along with Phillip Leslie Colville, then aged 42 and from Glencairn Pass, for charges dating back to 2013.

Belfast Crown Court heard that in December 2013, police stopped a car on a Westlink slip road leading to the Broadway roundabout.

Both men were inside and when searched, Colville was found to be hiding around 11g of cocaine – enough for around 10 wraps – between his buttocks.

In a follow-up search of his home, police found a stun gun in the shape of a mobile phone. Colville admitted possessing the drug, but denied possessing the banned weapon.

He was later tried at Belfast Crown Court and found guilty by a jury of possessing the stun gun.

Police also searched a house in the Shankill area linked to Officer and found a significant amount of cocaine in various levels of purity, along with equipment associated with mixing the drug.

Mark Officer was handed a 40-month sentence in 2015 for being involved in the supply of cocaine, pictured
 

A prosecutor said it was the Crown's case that Officer had involved himself in mixing the drug at the address.

A defence lawyer said he was more of a "storeman" and was "vulnerable to people who may want to take advantage of him".

Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland told the pair they would serve half of their sentences in prison and half on licence.

Sentencing both men, he spoke of the drugs operation uncovered and said that while he accepted Officer had acted under some degree of pressure, he had involved himself in processing the drug.

Police estimated that the drugs seized had a value of almost £950,000.

On one of his Facebook pages, Mr Officer says he "works at North Belfast DUP".

He is also 'Facebook friends' with numerous DUP representatives, including Mrs Foster.

In a statement a DUP spokeswoman said: "Mark Officer has applied to join the DUP, but is not a paid-up member.

"He is not employed by the DUP in any capacity. Having served time for a past conviction, he is now seeking to get on with his life and make a positive contribution to society, as he is entitled to do."

It is not the first time the DUP has faced questions over who Mrs Foster has been photographed with.

In 2016, while first minister, Mrs Foster was pictured with alleged UDA commander and Charter NI chief executive Dee Stitt, a convicted gunman, at a government funding announcement for the organisation.

At the time Mrs Foster said she did not regret the photo, insisting the employability project that had been announced was a "very good programme".

A spokesman for Pride of Ardoyne Flute Band said Mark Officer was ejected from the band following his conviction and has not been allowed to return.

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