remanded | 

Two Catholic men from west Belfast in court over £100,000 ‘UVF cocaine haul’

James McGrogan (36) and 31-year-old Christopher Cullen were remanded in custody

Some of the drugs and paraphernalia seized by the police

Ciaran BarnesSunday Life

Two alleged drugs barons arrested over a £100,000 cocaine haul that police linked to the East Belfast UVF are Catholics from west Belfast.

James McGrogan (36) and 31-year-old Christopher Cullen were remanded in custody after appearing in court last week charged with possessing the drug with intent to supply.

Loyalist sources said they were surprised the seizures had been linked to the East Belfast UVF, given the backgrounds of the people in the dock.

“It is telling that when they appeared in court, there was no mention of the UVF,” an insider said.

“Both of these individuals are originally from west Belfast. They have no connection whatsoever to the organisation [the East Belfast UVF].”

Judge Mark Reel told a sentencing hearing at Belfast Crown Court last week the police believed all drug dealing in east Belfast was connected to the paramilitary gang.

Grogan and Cullen were arrested after police stopped a car they were travelling in on the city’s Montgomery Road on March 25, the day after Judge Reel made his comments.

Cops had earlier witnessed the Volkswagen Jetta being driven to a property on Picardy Avenue, where a package was passed through the window.

With a search failing to locate this item, the vehicle was taken away for further examination.

After a more detailed investigation, officers discovered a “professionally installed, hydraulically controlled hide”.

A detective told Belfast Magistrates Court: “Inside that hide there was a kilogram of cocaine in various states. There were broken parts of what we would describe as a compressed block, loose cocaine in bags, prepared deal bags of cocaine, unused deal bags, scales and all the accoutrements of drugs supply.

“There was also £30,000 approximately in cash, which was located in a Flannels [shopping] bag.

“This item would be consistent with what was passed through the window at the time of the observations on Picardy Avenue.”

McGrogan, who has an address on Ardenlee Drive, was remanded in custody after the court heard he has 22 criminal convictions, six of which are for serious drug crimes.

It was also revealed he is currently on bail for “serious drugs offences” linked to the Encrochat phone network.

Co-accused Christopher Cullen, from the Upper Lisburn Road, appeared in court the following morning on the same charges of possessing cocaine with intent to supply.

Giving evidence, a detective claimed the defendant’s clean record made him an ideal candidate to “fly below the radar” and transport drugs.

He said: “If he [Cullen] has gone out of his way to modify this car, is it indicative that this is being done on a regular basis?”

Defence solicitor Adrian Harvey argued a distinction could be made between the alleged roles played by Cullen and McGrogan.

“There is no way Mr Cullen could have exited the vehicle or stopped driving to secrete any package,” the lawyer said.

“He doesn’t hide the fact that this was his vehicle. He works for a local delivery firm.”

However, that was not enough to stop his client from being remanded in custody.

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