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'noxious' Man accused of having five kilos of cannabis linked to East Belfast UVF remanded

Cherry claimed he was “under threat from drugs criminal gang”

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A Belfast man accused of having five kilos of cannabis, allegedly connected to East Belfast UVF, was remanded into custody today.

Refusing to free 23-year-old Ethan Cherry due to a risk of further offences, District Judge Mark Hamill said the case against him was a “familiar example of the noxious connection between paramilitaries and drug dealing.”

Appearing at Belfast Magistrates Court by videolink from police custody Cherry, from Trassey Close in the city, confirmed that he understood the four charges against him, allegedly committed on 1 April, including possessing cannabis, having the class B drug with intent to supply, simple possession of class A cocaine and driving a Mercedes Benz without insurance.

It was reported at the time that the seizure was worth an estimated £75,000.

Giving evidence to the court a detective constable described how the case relates to “an investigation into drugs criminality of the East Belfast UVF”.

He outlined that when Cherry was stopped and searched on the Upper Hightown Road on Friday morning, officers noted that he had “white powder about him” and when his car was searched, cops find five kilos of cannabis hidden in two hold-alls in the back seat.

Arrested and interviewed, Cherry claimed he was “under threat from drugs criminal gang” but did not give the police any further details that investigators could use to "verify that".

“He didn’t specify that he had been directly threatened or that any direct threat was made against him or his family and no weapons were mentioned,” said the detective, adding that Cherry also “hasn’t told us where he has been living".

Claiming he didn’t know there were drugs in the bags, Cherry alleged that two days beforehand he had been told to go to a nearby filling station on Friday morning and to buy petrol and when he got back into his car "everything will be sorted".

Cherry claimed that having done all that, he was driving back to Trassey Close he was stopped but the officer explained that according to his mother, Cherry had stayed there one night out of the last four months so “we’re pretty sure he doesn’t live there".

Asked by DJ Hamill whether the seizure was part of an ongoing investigation, the detective told him the PSNI "have a long running operation in relation to East Belfast UVF but I’m not in a position to give the full intelligence".

Defence solicitor Barry O’Donnell submitted that Cherry could be freed with a package of bail conditions but the judge said there was too great a risk of further offences.

Remanding Cherry into custody, he adjourned the case to 29 April.

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