Northern Ireland news

Man jailed over £1m cocaine haul signs DUP council election papers

Mark Officer, and left, canvassing in north Belfast with the DUP's Nelson McCausland and Dale Pankhurst
Brendan Hughes

A LOYALIST jailed over a cocaine haul worth nearly £1m has signed a DUP council election candidate's nomination papers.

Mark Officer has also been pictured canvassing for DUP north Belfast councillor Dale Pankhurst alongside former Stormont minister Nelson McCausland.

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

The Orangeman's name is listed among those who signed nomination papers for Gillian Simpson, a DUP candidate along with sitting councillor Mr Pankhurst in the Oldpark area.

Several photos have been posted online in recent days showing Officer canvassing with the two DUP candidates and carrying their election leaflets.

One image shows the north Belfast man sitting on a wall beside Mr Pankhurst and former MLA Mr McCausland.

Read more: Dale Pankhurst defends asking convicted Orangeman to sign nomination papers

"Team Oldpark hitting the hills this evening #StrengthToDeliver #TeamOldpark," Ms Simpson wrote beside the image on her Facebook page.

Officer's canvassing for the DUP comes after The Irish News last year revealed he attended a party constituency association annual general meeting involving senior figures including Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds.

At the time the DUP said he had applied to join the party and defended his attendance, saying he has served his jail term and now wants to "make a positive contribution to society".

Officer, of 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 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.

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, Officer said he works at "north and west Belfast DUP".

Among the pictures on his Facebook page is a cartoon image from 2017 appearing to show footballer James McClean dressed as an elf and Santa Claus pointing a gun at his head for not wearing a poppy.

The job description later disappeared from his profile page after The Irish News asked the DUP about his work status.

A DUP spokesman said Mark Officer "wishes to move forward and play a positive role in the community".

"Mr Officer was previously convicted of a criminal offence for which he has expressed remorse. He wishes to move forward and play a positive role in the community. As part of this he has assisted DUP candidates on a voluntary basis."

Read more: Dale Pankhurst defends asking convicted Orangeman to sign nomination papers

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