Northern Ireland

Police uncovered evidence of 'large scale supply and importation of drugs' on encrypted phone

DETECTIVES uncovered evidence of “large scale supply and importation of drugs” after they lawfully hacked an alleged dealer's encrypted phone, a court has heard.

Appearing by videolink at Newry Magistrates Court, sitting in Lisburn, Victor Notorantonio (45) yesterday confirmed he understood the five charges against him.

Notorantonio, from Cairn Grove in Newry, was charged with being concerned in the supply of cocaine and cannabis, simple possession of cocaine and two counts of possessing criminal property, all alleged to have been committed between March 25 and June 15 this year.

Prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer told the court that “essentially this is an investigation where the police obtained data from a mobile phone... obtained under authorisation, indicating large scale supply and importation of drugs”.

He said during a search of Notorantonio’s home on Monday, officers seized a “small quantity” of cocaine along with two mobile phones, two tablets, two pay-as-you-go SIM cards, digital scales, financial documents and a “pink notebook with transactions and a dealer list as well as £12-13,000 in cash”.

The accused had been sitting on a sofa in the living room and beside him, under a blanket, police uncovered a “black encrypted phone”.

The court heard there was also a Samsung mobile phone in his pocket and while Notorantonio denied any knowledge of the “Encro phone”, police believe the two devices are linked through messages.

Mr Steer said on the Encro phone, police uncovered “a large quantity of messages relating to the supply of class A and B drugs”.

He claimed that as well as being involved drug dealing, police believe Notorantonio “is part of a large scale criminal network” and if freed, he would contact the “large number of other suspects” police want to speak to or “obstruct justice and destroy evidence”.

A police officer also revealed that on the day of the search, Notorantonio had been attacked and beaten by a gang of men and so police had fears for his own safety.

Defence solicitor Ciaran Toner said Notorantonio had given an innocent explanation for the cash, saying some of it was from the sale of a van, a portion was savings and the rest was to be a wedding present for his daughter.

He submitted that with a clear criminal record and the prospect that the case could take more than a year to be dealt with, bail conditions could be put in place to address police concerns.

However, District Judge Amanda Brady said that with the investigation at an early stage, “the bail application cannot succeed today” as there was a risk of interfering with that investigation and “a risk to his own safety”.

Notorantonio was remanded into custody and the case adjourned to 15 July 15.