Northern Ireland

Three men jailed for drugs offences arising from police search at west Belfast business premises

Laganside Court in Belfast
Laganside Court in Belfast

THREE men were jailed on Thursday for drugs offences arising from a police search at business premises in west Belfast.

Mark Johnston (36), 40-year old Paul Palmer and Anthony Morgan (46) were sentenced at Belfast Crown Court on charges linked to supplying cocaine.

All three were arrested following a raid at a lock-up garage on Genoa Street. The premises was under police observation and on March 19, 2020 officers conducted a search seized a large quantity of cocaine.

Johnston, whose recovery business was run from the lock-up garage, admitted a charge of being concerned in the supply of cocaine between October 1, 2019 and March 20, 2020.

From Sultan Square in Belfast, he was handed a two-year sentence comprising of 12 months in jail followed by 12 months on licence.

The court heard Johnston was detained leaving the premises and when it was searched a large quantity of cocaine was located.

Johnston - who claimed he felt under duress by others to allow his premises to be used for the drugs operation - admitted he had supplied cocaine to a small number of people on four occasions.

Palmer, from Mayfly Mews in Newtownabbey, was handed a 12-month sentence, which was divided equally between jail and licence, for both possessing cocaine and possessing the Class A drug with intent to supply.

On March 19, 2020 he was observed by police driving away from the garage. He was followed and when stopped in Divis Street, he was caught with a block an 124-gram block of cocaine with a purity of 70 per cent.

A smaller amount of cocaine was also found in a bag in his pocket.

Morgan, of Ardilea Court in Belfast, admitted three offences arising from a search of his home.

He was observed walked away from garage on the day of the police operation and arrested. When his home was searched, officers located 6.39 grams of compressed cocaine with an 81 per cent purity and 41 Diazepam tablets.

Morgan was handed a total sentence of ten months for possessing the cocaine and Diazepam, and for being concerned in the supply of cocaine as the amount seized was to share with friends at a party.

It emerged during today's sentencing that when all three men were arrested, both Palmer and Morgan gave largely 'no comment' responses.

During his second interview, Johnston claimed he had 'no choice' about letting his garage be used as he owed money to those involved - but was not aware of the scale of the operation.

Judge Philip Gilpin said he had taken into consideration defence submissions made on behalf of the three men.

Regarding Johnston, he acknowledged his stable family background, work history and the sponsorship of a local football club.

The judge noted Morgan was a grandfather who ran a property management business and had also expressed remorse for his offending.

Palmer, the Judge said, acts as a carer for several family members and has taken steps to address his addiction issues.

Described supplying drugs as "heinous criminal activity", Judge Gilpin imposed the sentence and jailed all three men. He then addressed prison staff and said "take them down."