A court has heard £2 million worth of drugs has been seized from an organised crime gang in England suspected of supplying Northern Irish lorry drivers with herbal cannabis to bring across the Irish Sea and then move it into the Republic of Ireland.
The comment was made by a police officer at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Saturday morning where a Liverpool man was refused bail in relation to the recovery of £300,000 worth of herbal cannabis found at Moorfields Road between Larne and Ballymena last May.
A lorry driver from Scarva, County Down, was arrested during the incident last year and he is currently on bail due to be arraigned on charges at Antrim Crown Court this week.
Now, it has emerged, police arrested a Liverpool man in recent days as he flew into Manchester Airport from Barcelona and he was taken to Northern Ireland for questioning.
25-year-old James Daniel Kennedy, of Adelaide Road in the Kensington area of Liverpool, appeared at Ballymena Court.
He faces two charges - unlawfully supplying herbal cannabis and being concerned in the supply of herbal cannabis on May 7 last year.
A police officer said she believed she could connect the Liverpool man to the charges.
Opposing bail she said police believe an “organised crime gang in England is supplying lorry drivers from Northern Ireland with herbal cannabis. They are bringing it in to Northern Ireland and supplying it to the Republic of Ireland.”
She said three arrests had been made in connection with seizures of £2 million worth of drugs.
The officer said a Northern Ireland lorry driver was stopped at Moorfields Road last year and £300,000 worth of cannabis was recovered in a box and investigations forensically linked Kennedy with a “fingerprint to the box”.
The officer said a ‘cannabis factory’ was discovered at a house linked to the Kennedy family and after police put out an alert about James Kennedy, Manchester Airport said the accused was on a flight coming in from Barcelona and he was arrested.
The officer said his mobile phone and passport meant they had “serious concerns about his lifestyle”.
She said Kennedy told police he was in Barcelona five times last year but the accused said he only earns £300 a week in his job.
The officer said the accused told them he had been in Barcelona for six weeks.
She added he had also travelled to Dubai, the Bahamas and New York which she the officer said did not fit in with what he claimed he earns.
The officer said Kennedy claimed he had a £32,000 personal loan for a car which he sold for £17,000 and he was “living it up”.
The detective said she believed he was part of an organised crime gang and if he was released on bail to go back to England he could go further afield as he has family living in Barcelona.
A prosecutor said Kennedy has a record including three breaches of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs).
Defence lawyer Feargal MacElhatton said Kennedy has lived in Liverpool for 16 years where his father, mother and brother live.
The police officer told him there were only police witnesses and no surveillance evidence and the solicitor said there was no evidence he was a flight risk.
He said the herbal cannabis was in sealed bags and there was none of his client’s DNA on them but the police officer said Kennedy was linked to the case by a fingerprint on an outer box.
The solicitor said there was nothing to link his client to the lorry driver but the officer said his fingerprint was on the same package the lorry driver had.
Mr MacElhatton said his client “gave an innocent explanation” that he handled boxes during his work as a car mechanic.
The lawyer said it was a “very, very weak prosecution case” regarding one fingerprint and if it went to trial he believed the prosecution would have difficulty clearing a hurdle on that.
The officer said they are going to be making “serious financial enquiries” into Kennedy.
In relation to a house being searched in Liverpool, the solicitor said Kennedy’s father Derek was bailed without charge.
Mr MacElhatton said the accused’s aunt has a property in Barcelona.
He said his client is in a relationship with a woman whose father owns properties in Liverpool which are rented to students and he could assist in any bail sum.
Refusing bail, District Judge Dan Magill said there was the “issue of sojourns around the world” and a risk of further offences being committed.
Kennedy was remanded in custody to appear back at the same court in February.