Northern Ireland

Loyalist paramilitary group working with organised crime gangs in Republic to bring cocaine north, court told

The two men were remanded into custody
The two men were remanded into custody

A LOYALIST paramilitary group is working with organised crime gangs in the Republic to import cocaine into the north, a detective has claimed.

Giving evidence at Newtownards Magistrates Court, where two men appeared charged with drug offences, the officer from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force said police believed while one man had links to the east Belfast UVF.

The other man, he said, "is linked to an organised crime gang in the Republic of Ireland" and that they were working together "to import cocaine to various parts of east Belfast".

Appearing separately by videolink from police custody, David John Ghent (41), a taxi driver from Hollyfields in Dungannon, and Colin Joseph Garrett (29), from Upper Newtownards Road in Dundonald, confirmed they understood the charges.

Ghent faces five charges including possessing cocaine, having the class A drug with intent to supply, supplying cocaine, importing cocaine and possessing criminal property while Garrett faces three charges including possessing cocaine, having the class A drug with intent to supply and simple possession of class B cannabis, all alleged to have been committed on November 24 this year.

During contested bail applications, the detective told the court how the pair were arrested, Ghent in Moira and Garrett in east Belfast, during a “proactive operation” by the PCTF which resulted in the seizure of cocaine estimated to be worth around £180,000.

According to the police case, Ghent “travelled from Dublin” to an address in east Belfast and officers watched as Garrett left the property, collected a package from the taxi and went back inside. While Ghent left that scene, he was arrested in Moira a short time later and during a search of his car, a package of cocaine was located.

Turning back to Garrett, the officer said police had to force entry to the address and as they did so, he was seen running upstairs and into a rear bedroom where he threw a package out of the window.

This was cocaine which police suspect will have “a high purity content".

The officer told the court police were objecting to either man being freed on bail.

Despite submissions from defence counsellors Craig Patton and Conan Rea that bail conditions could be attached, District Judge Mark Hamill said given the “noxious mixture of organised crime and paramilitary involvement,” he was refusing bail and remanded the pair into custody until December 22.