Northern Ireland news

Three men jailed after cross border drugs seizure netted £1m cannabis haul

Cannabis with an estimated street value of £1m was found in a modified fuel tank in Dromore. Picture by Pacemaker

THREE men have been jailed at Newry Crown Court for their role in what is thought to be the biggest ever herbal cannabis seizure in Northern Ireland.

More than £1m worth of drugs is estimated to have been found inside a fuel container on a trailer in Ballynaris Lane, Dromore, Co Down early last year.

It had been transported from Spain via the Republic.

The seizure followed a cross-border operation between the PSNI, Gardaí and customs officials.

James McAleese, of Terryhoogan Road in Scarva was described in court as the man behind the crime.

His Honour Judge Gordon Kerr, said he wanted to be “the Mr Big, but didn’t have the experience of a past”.

The 44-year-old received a three-year sentence.

Kevin McPolin (33) from Linenfields in Banbridge, drove the drugs across the border. He received a 30-month sentence.

Niall Leonard Patrick Mallon (39) of Laurel Mews in Dromore accompanied McPolin on that trip. Mallon received a two-year sentence.

The judge said his culpability was less than the others, partly due to his low IQ.

Half of their sentences are to be served in custody and the other half on licence.

All three pleaded guilty to fraud importation of class B drugs and possession of cannabis on March 30, 2018 with a third count of supply left on the books. The defendants pleaded following a re-arraignment of the charges on June 4.

The key man who had fallen hard times, being bankrupt in 2012 had attempted to gain back a secure financial standing with a swift drug operation triangulated in to Northern Ireland via Dublin and Barcelona.

Fake emails a ‘dirty phone’ and a legitimate company in the background were used to arrange the mass cannabis smuggling operation.

McAleese's barrister, Kevin Magill admitted the drug crime, though sophisticated in its nature of importation, was “easy for the police to crack”.

Couriers Mallon and McPolin, who wanted to make a “quick buck”, were said to be that inept that they spent a day lost in Dublin attempting to locate the drop off point for a huge imported container with 54kgs of cannabis secreted on board.

After the two Co Down men picked up the herbal cannabis shipment in a converted fuel tank, they uploaded it onto a trailer and travelled north on the A1 to the Dromore turn off towards Lurgan.

They were caught red handed by the PSNI in the backyard of Mallon’s elderly parents’ house, the only place the “vulnerable adult” could use to hold up the massive amount of internationally imported drugs.

Detectives from PSNI’s Organised Crime Unit welcomed the conviction.

Speaking outside court detective Inspector Chris Millar said the investigation "took a significant amount of drugs off our streets". He said the Cross Border Joint Agency Task Force played a crucial role in tackling the importation and supply of drugs in both jurisdictions.

"Over the last 12 months, £5.3 million worth of drugs, £3.5 million of assets and 11 firearms have been seized during operations coordinated by the Cross Border JATF.

“There continues to be debate within society and some people think that spending money on some cannabis isn’t a problem, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

"I want people to think about where their money is going before they hand over cash for recreational drugs. Any money that you hand over for drugs, no matter how small, goes to fund the misery inflicted in our communities by drug dealers. People who deal drugs don’t care about the devastation that addiction causes – their primary concern is with lining their pockets."

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