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Organised crime Drug smuggling case against over 30 men in jeopardy as witness not allowed testify in UK

Mr Steer described how there was a “large number of messages about drugs, arranging lorry drivers and haulage companies to move drugs” with references to deliveries between the Netherlands and RoI

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Craigavon Magistrates Court

Craigavon Magistrates Court

Craigavon Magistrates Court

Charges against more than 30 men accused of involvement in organised drug smuggling partially rests on the evidence of a French officer who isn’t allowed to testify in the UK, a court heard on Wednesday.

Craigavon Magistrates Court also heard that the prosecution have lodged a 130 page hear say application in relation to the evidence of the French officer who defence counsel Aaron Thompson revealed “isn’t allowed, by the equivalent of their Attorney General, to leave France to give evidence in the UK.”

He highlighted that one potential problem with the case progressing was that while the French authorities claim they have a capabilities to intercept previously encrypted data, “we can’t tell you how access it because there’s national secrecy.”

The revelations came as the case against two men, Darran McConville and Jeffrey McClean were mentioned.

Their joint cases were scheduled to be sent to the Crown Court but Mr Thompson, acting for McConville, applied for that to be adjourned as he is seeking the opinion of senior counsel.

McConville (43), has eight charges against him - conspiring to murder “persons unknown,” conspiring to import cannabis, being concerned in the supply of the class B drug and class A cocaine, conspiring to possessing cannabis and cocaine, entering an arrangement to acquire criminal property and conspiring to cultivate cannabis at his home address at Market Street Court in Tandragee, all alleged to have been committed between 25 March and 15 June last year.

McClean (44), from the Hawthorns in Portadown, ischarged with six offences, allegedly committed between the same dates, including offering to supply cannabis and cocaine, conspiring to import cannabis, conspiracies to possess firearms and prohibited weapons, namely tasers and attempting to acquire tasers.

The pair have been charged following a mammoth Europe wide investigation into organised crime after French investigators hacked into the Encro chat network, an investigation that has resulted in hundreds of cases across the UK and specifically 31 in Northern Ireland.

Earlier hearings heard how the pair were arrested and charged after the PSNI, working in tandem with the NCA, obtained previously hidden data from encrypted handsets.

In general terms, it was claimed that messages and images obtained by investigators suggested that both men were involved in the international transportation of drugs.

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Taking McClean first, prosecuting lawyer Robin Steer revealed that amongst the received messages there were discussions where McClean allegedly asked about how much a Glock pistol would cost, instructing the person he messaged to “get him a .38” and there was also evidence that he had tried to use the dark web to obtain a taser.

He said there were other messages which referred to the “transportation of drugs and money through NI and the Republic of Ireland,” adding that while police do not have the actual handset involved, that believe he can be connected to the data which has been retrieved through the content of the messages including an image matching his kitchen counter and references to his wife and her impending birthday.

Turning to McConville, Mr Steer described again how there was a “large number of messages about drugs, arranging lorry drivers and haulage companies to move drugs” with references to deliveries between the Netherlands and RoI.

The allegations relating to the murder conspiracy, the lawyer said there was a “general conversation about killing someone called McCann” but that it then “becomes more specific” with an exchange of messages asking “how much it would cost to kill people.”

In court on Wednesday Mr Thompson said as this was the first of the NI cases set to be sent to the Crown, “I do not want to have any missteps in this because there are very technical matters related to it,” a view that was echoed by Conn O’Neill, defence counsel for McClean.

Adjourning the cases to 3 November, Deputy District Judge Laura Ievers said she would consider the application to extend legal aid.

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