Two man have appeared in court charged in relation to a huge cannabis factory uncovered in Ballymena, while a third man escaped from police.
A police officer told Ballymena Magistrates Court that a third man who they are investigating is still at large.
Sam Surgenor (48)and Connor O’Neill (18), have been charged with being concerned in the production of class B controlled drug, cultivating cannabis, possession of a class B controlled drug and possessing a class B controlled drug with intent to supply.
The charges are in connection with the discovery of 271 cannabis plants valued at approximately £135,000 in the Deerfin Road area of Ballymena following a planned operation on Monday, December 2.
An investigating police officer said that it was a large Cannabis factory in a rural area of Ballymena.
The court heard that police approached three men at the property, but one of them escaped.
Police discovered 271 plants at “various stages of growth.”
The officer confirmed that this third man is “actively being sought.”
He said: “The third man’s identity is known to the police and is believed to be a relative of O’Neill.”
Police objected to the bail appeal by Mr O’Neill on the grounds that he was likely to re-offend.
District Judge Des Perry asked how long police had been observing the property but the officer said he did not wish to comment at this time.
A defending solicitor acting on behalf of O’Neill told the court that her client had learning difficulties and had begun working for a firm as an apprentice mechanic. She explained to the court that O’Neill had “came into the operation this way.”
Judge Perry observed: “This is slightly different sort of work (to being a mechanic).”
The defence solicitor added: “Mr O’Neill suffers from learning difficulties and has difficulty seeing the outcome of his actions. He was instructed by someone older than him, he had a fear of losing his apprenticeship and his career.”
She claimed that O’Neill was not being paid and was “simply a lackey.”
Judge Perry asked the investigating police officer if he believed that he was dealing with someone of lower intelligence in relation to O’Neill.
The officer agreed and said his concerns over bail would be the defendant warning the third man about the investigation.
The defence solicitor contended: “I don’t think my client is in a position to give this third man a heads up.”
District Judge Des Perry granted O’Neill bail of £500 with conditions that he only enter the Ballymena Jurisdiction for his court appearances. He was electronically tagged, curfewed, and forbidden from using a mobile phone.
O’Neill was warned to not contact the third party in any way or he would be committing a very serious crime.
Surgenor was remanded in custody to appear in court on December 19 via video link.
O’Neill’s case was adjourned to January 16.