bale denied  | 

Bizarre Irish motorway incident involving a horsebox leads to major UK cannabis ring being busted

Over €1m was in cannabis was found hidden in bales of hay that fell off the back of a horsebox

Cannabis found during the raids

Richard Sullivan

A freak motorway accident outside Belfast led to a UK-wide drug gang being busted.

Six men were jailed for their part in a multi-million pound cannabis-dealing racket, following the conviction of a man in Northern Ireland last month.

Cops busted the mob after the PSNI recovered more than £1m worth of cannabis stuffed inside hay bales that fell off a horsebox on the M1 outside Belfast in October 2020.

Last month Nathan Greene, from Drumaknockan Lane in Hillsborough, was handed a nine-month sentence after pleading guilty to possession of a Class B controlled drug with intent to supply.

(top L-R) Glen Sinclair, Lahert Pone, Tedi Hyesani, (bottom L-R) Luke Spencer, Andrew Hall, Eneo Zace

The 34-year-old was told at Downpatrick Crown Court that he must also serve nine months on licence.

Police arrested Greene in follow-up searches after the bales came loose from the horsebox as it was towed along the M1 near Belfast in 2020.

The PSNI investigation was sparked by the incident in which an insecure load of hay bales fell near the Blacks Road Junction.

Speaking at the time, Detective Inspector Shaw said: "The horsebox, being driven on the M1 in Belfast, shed its load on the morning of October 3, 2020. It's believed that the driver - Nathan Greene - temporarily stopped to secure some bales before promptly leaving the scene.

Drugs found on the M1

"Cannabis, with an estimated street value of approximately £1.24m, was found hidden inside the bales that had fallen."

He said the arrest was part of Operation Dealbreaker which involved police forces and other agencies across the UK.

Last week members of a drugs gang which supplied millions of pounds worth of cannabis across the UK were jailed as a direct consequence of the horsebox gaffe.

A police officer during the raid on the cannabis farm

Six defendants based in Rochdale and Bury appeared before Manchester Crown Court two weeks ago for their part in an organised crime gang known as Nardo, which operated for around at least a year between 2020 and 2021.

The court heard the gang produced cannabis on an "industrial scale".

Prosecuting, Alex Langhorne said the gang produced "industrial quantities" of cannabis for supply to other organised mobs including one in Northern Ireland.

The court heard that the gang's activities first came to police attention on October 3, 2020, when defendant Andrew Hall (55) contacted fellow defendants Eneo Zace (34) and Tedi Hyesani (28) - both Albanian nationals - before collecting cannabis from a farm in St Helens and supplying it to members of the Northern Irish gang.

When the 50kg of drugs fell of the horsebox, police launched an UK-wide investigation, called Operation Marengo.

Mr Langhorne said that by November 23 of that year two farms were operating in St Helens and Bacup in the north of England, and plenty of "handovers" of cash and drugs were seen, showing "movement down a chain".

On November 30, 80kg of cannabis transported to Northern Ireland was stopped on the motorway by police, with Hall, Zais and another defendant Lahert Pone (32) all sending each other "panicked" messages that evening.

This later led to the discovery of the cannabis farm in Bacup on January 31, 2021, the court heard. The owner of the property, Glen Sinclair (40), attended saying there had been a break-in, where police found "a large and sophisticated farm premises".

"There were a number of different rooms across three floors with cannabis at different stages of growth," Mr Langhorne said. He added that it was a "highly sophisticated" set-up with a "huge quantity" of growing equipment.

The cannabis plants at different stages of growth meant that more than £500,000 worth of cannabis could be produced every 10 weeks. The discovery of the farm did not stop the conspiracy, though, with many handovers of drugs and cash taking place in the months after.

On May 11, the remnants of a cannabis farm were discovered in St Helens, which police discovered could also be capable of making more than £1m of cannabis regularly for supply, and was again a "highly sophisticated" operation.

The police investigation into the conspiracy culminated in dawn raids on September 21 last year, when Zace, Hyesani, and Pone were arrested. Hall was not arrested during the raids but later handed himself in at a police station.

Sinclair was arrested in December 2021 and made a "frank admission" to hiring out his unit for use as a cannabis farm, where he was paid over the asking price as "hush money".

Another arrested and charged was 30-year-old Luke Spencer, who had an "operational function" within the conspiracy chain. One of the leaders of the gang was not up for sentencing as they have fled the country and live in Dubai, the court heard.

All defendants pleaded guilty to their charges, with each defence barrister playing down the defendants' role in the conspiracy and their remorse for being involved.

However, Judge Hilary Manley told the court: "This was a sophisticated and highly organised operation to grow large amounts of cannabis and supply it to other groups.

"Each one of you played a part over these 12 months with an expectation to financial gain." Zace, of Lakeside, Bury, was jailed for six years for two counts of conspiracy to supply cannabis, due to his "organisation" of the production of the drugs on an industrial scale and his "influence on others", the judge said.

Hall, of Wycherley Road, Rochdale, was handed a three-year and four-month sentence for conspiracy to supply cannabis.

Hyesani, of St Peters Street, Rochdale, was given two years and six months for the same.

Pone, of New Barn Lane, Rochdale, was handed three years and six months for conspiracy to supply cannabis.

Sinclair, of Bacup, was sentenced to two years and four months in prison.

Spencer, of Thrum Hall Lane, Rochdale, was jailed for two years for a conspiracy to supply cannabis.

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