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drug error Couple who were jailed for four weeks over jar of flour mistaken for cocaine slam cops

The pair returned home to find loyalist paramilitary thugs had smashed up their home

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Vera Willis this week outside her home which was destroyed by the UDA

Vera Willis this week outside her home which was destroyed by the UDA

Vera Willis this week outside her home which was destroyed by the UDA

BUNGLING cops wrongly arrested and jailed an innocent couple after mistaking a jar of flour in their house for a £45K stash of cocaine.

And as if things couldn’t get any worse, they were freed this week to find that loyalist paramilitaries had smashed up their home.

Robert and Vera Willis – both 50 – were interrogated and charged with serious drug offences last month after PSNI detectives searched their south Belfast home and seized the white cooking powder from a kitchen worktop.

The parents were taken into custody where officers said the powdery substance – used by Robert to make a KFC-style chicken marinade – had tested positive for Class A drugs.

Despite their pleas of innocence, Mr and Mrs Willis were refused bail and taken to separate prisons where they spent four weeks on remand.

On Tuesday, they were finally released after their legal team pushed for further forensic tests on the white substance. It was then revealed that the stash was just wheat grain flour.

However, before their names could be cleared, a UDA gang decided to dole out its own ‘justice’ over the drug allegations.

At the weekend, a gang of thugs connected to the terror group’s Lisburn faction targeted their Kinnegar Road home with paint bombs and bricks.

Robert and Vera put the blame of the paramilitary attack down to information being passed by the police to loyalists in the area.

They told the Sunday World of the trauma they have endured over the last month and how they will sue the PSNI over their wrongful arrests and the damage it has caused.

“I have lost complete faith in the police,” Robert said. “I no longer have respect for them and I had massive respect before, but not after this.

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Vera Willis this week outside her home

Vera Willis this week outside her home

Vera Willis this week outside her home

“The way we were treated was completely wrong. The last four weeks have been so hard for me and Vera, I even thought about taking my own life, I had it all planned out.”

The couple told how police called to their home, where they live alone with their dog Willow, on the evening of February 1.

“I had just made dinner, my son Nathan and his girlfriend had just left and then I finished the dishes,” explained Vera.

“I just came in to the living room and sat down when I heard the door opening and I went to see who it was, and it was the police.

“They said they had a warrant to search the house. I asked what the warrant was for and I was told, drugs.

“I said well feel free to search because I’m not hiding anything.”

Robert added: “There were loads of police, there was a van and four meat wagons parked at the top of the street Whenever the search team came in, they were dead on. They weren’t nasty, they were great and the sergeant was great.

“He said this is what it is, we are going to search for drugs, is there any money in the house?

“I said yes. He asked would there be more than £10,000, I said yes.

“He said, much would there be? I said £64,900.

“The money belongs to my son Nathan who breeds dogs – French and English bulldogs which can sell for up to £15,000 a pup. Nathan had left the money here and he was coming back that night to lift it.

“I asked the sergeant would he be taking that money and the guy that was writing stuff down said, not unless there is a bag of drugs to go with it.”

The dad of two added: “They carried on searching and when they were in the kitchen and I heard them say we need to get a bag.

“I asked was that for the flour and he said, ‘listen because it’s white powder we need to take it and get it tested’.

“It was taken outside and the sergeant came back and said good news, it’s not drugs.

“I said, I know it’s not drugs, I used the flour last week to make KFC chicken, it was a recipe from Facebook.

“Then the detectives came in and said they were going to arrest us for the cash.”

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Vera Willis at her home which was destroyed by the UDA

Vera Willis at her home which was destroyed by the UDA

Vera Willis at her home which was destroyed by the UDA

Their son Nathan told the Sunday World he had been keeping the large amount of money at his parents’ home after selling a number of pure-bred pups, which usually sell for five-figure sums.

“I breed French bulldogs and English bulldogs, you make good money out of them. Some dogs sell for £40,000,” he said. “Two of my dogs sold for £8k and the other one sold for £14k and the other two 15k.

“I have one dog which I sell sperm for and I get £2k every time, the money was legitimately made and I have proof of that from those who bought the dogs.

“The money has been seized and I have until April 1 to declare it, which I was intending on doing. But they have seized it now and I don’t know when I’ll get it back.”

Vera and Robert were both taken to Musgrave Street PSNI Station where they were to be questioned over the cash.

It was only when they were in their cells that police informed them they were being further arrested for possession of a Class A drug.

Said Robert: “I said, the flour? The sergeant said, ‘just shut up and listen to what the detectives are telling you’.

“I was brought in for a three-and-a-half-hour interview, they lifted the bag of flour and put it down in front of me and said, do you know what this is?

“I said yes, it’s flour. He said, ‘how do you know it’s flour?’

“I said because I literally used it last week to do the chicken.

“They said that no, they’d retested it and it came back as MDMA. I said it couldn’t be.”

Vera added: “They make you feel like a dirty, rotten liar. The mental torture of what they put you through is crazy.

“I was down there (Musgrave) for two nights. I got no medication, I’m on a lot of tablets. I have chronic pancreatitis, so I was suffering.”

Mr and Mr Willis were then charged with a number of serious drug offences including possession of a Class A drug with intent to supply. They were both remanded into custody.

Details of their arrests and the charges were released by the PSNI the following day to the media.

A press statement telling of the arrests read: “Detectives from Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Organised Crime Unit, have yesterday, Tuesday, 2 February, seized suspected Class A drugs with an estimated street value of £45,500 and a significant quantity of cash following the search of a house in the Kinnegar Road area of south Belfast.”

“The demand for drugs fuels the local drug trade which causes irreparable damage and loss to many families.

“During this global coronavirus pandemic those who peddle drugs are placing more demand on the NHS.”

After being charged, Robert was transferred to Maghaberry prison and his wife Vera moved to Hydebank.

Both were placed in Covid quarantine for two weeks before being moved alongside other prisoners. As they continued to protest their innocence, their mental health took a downward spiral.

Said Robert: “The staff in Maghaberry were absolutely brilliant. They clicked on I was going downhill. They got the mental health team in to speak to me and they kept checking on me. If I needed to chat, they would be there.

“I wanted to take my life at one point, I had it all planned out.”

Vera said: “I was actually stronger than what Robert was and I would suffer from mental health.

“I met a girl from the Shankill in there and she kept me strong. If I hadn’t of had that girl I don’t know what I would have done.

“I was just taking it day by day by day. I phoned my son and I said, I can’t take it anymore. I feel like I’m going to put a cable round my neck. It just knocked me over the edge.

“On top of that I was supposed to be getting four Tramadol a day, they would only give me two.

“They don’t understand, they don’t know what I go through every day.

“They put me on a soft diet in Hydebank, and that was sausages, mash and gravy and I can’t swallow sausages.

“I just hardly ate. The day before I got out they brought me round a salad, a wee round thing with cheese in it and that’s what I had the entire day. I’ve lost about a stone in weight.”

During their four weeks inside, bail was refused by a High Court judge twice after police claimed the white substance had been tested numerous times and was cocaine. They valued the seizure at £45,500.

The couple’s legal team continued to request for further tests on the powder seized from their home. On Monday, they were informed a test revealed the substance was not drugs related.

Vera revealed: “My son Curtis phoned me in Hydebank and said, ‘Mum the drugs test come back, it was flour’.

“I dropped the phone and broke down and cried. No one could believe it.

“When I was leaving the girl on reception said to me, ‘Vera I knew you were innocent the day you walked in here’.”

However, the couple’s troubles did not end when they left prison with clear names.

“We didn’t find out the house was wrecked until the next day,” said Vera. “I was told the UDA wrecked our house, they paint-bombed it and put a brick through the living room window.

“When I came home yesterday, I got out of the car and saw the house. I just couldn’t believe people are so evil.”

Said Robert: “It wasn’t Finaghy UDA, it was Lisburn. They said police were telling them it was drugs.

“They have meetings with the PSNI about community relations and things going on in the estate.

“We have CCTV outside our house but it didn’t get the attack as police had taken it away when they searched our home.”

The Willises said they believe they were targeted after someone passed on false information to the police.

“Either they got the wrong information or they got the wrong house,” said Vera.

“My son Nathan is on a three-year suspended sentence (for drug offences), he is clear of drugs two years.

“Because of his record I think there is also a possibility somebody in this estate took it upon themselves to try to get at Nathan through us. We just don’t know.

“But neither myself or Robert has a criminal conviction for anything.

“Our solicitor is giving us a couple of days get settled back here, get our house sorted and then he says we are suing them.

Robert said: “I work two jobs, machine work for a plastics company in Dunmurry and I also clean the floors in a car repair centre in the evenings. If I was a drug dealer, would I be out doing that? The police thought so.”

A PSNI spokesperson said: “Inquiries are continuing, and as this is an ongoing investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further. Anyone with a complaint regarding police actions should contact the office of the Police Ombudsman.”

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