Bail for haulage company boss charged over cannabis seizure worth up to £14m

AN international haulage company boss charged in connection with the seizure of up to GBP14 million worth of cannabis has been granted bail at the High Court. A judge ruled that Co Down man Gary McGeown can be released from custody after prosecutors ended their opposition. He was ordered to put up a GBP30,000 surety and banned from any contact with a lorry driver being sought by detectives.

McGeown (34) was arrested on March 30 following one of the largest drug confiscations of its kind in Northern Ireland. Searches carried out at his company’s haulage yard on the Rathfriland Road, Newry led to the discovery of 750 bags of herbal cannabis in a trailer, hidden among pallets of ceramic tiles. A previous court was told the haul has an estimated value of between GBP10m to GBP14m.

Police also located empty boxes of tiles with similar hides, which the prosecution said may indicate an earlier shipment passed through the same premises. The raid was linked to a Europe-wide investigation into suspected crime networks using encrypted phones. Data obtained by French and Dutch authorities was passed to the National Crime Agency (NCA) and PSNI.

It was claimed that some of the messages, including references to a lorry driver being stuck in Russia due to the lockdown, can be linked to McGeown. The defendant, of Belfast Road in Newry, is charged with being concerned in the importation of cannabis and possessing class B drugs with intent to supply. He is further accused of being concerned in the supply of cannabis in April last year.

McGeown denies the charges and has disputed the strength of evidence against him. His bid to be released from custody had been opposed amid concerns about potential interference with the ongoing probe. But in court yesterday Crown lawyer Robin Steer confirmed: “Police have now reached a different stage in their investigation, so the objection no longer holds valid.”

On that basis Mr Justice Rooney agreed to grant bail on a series of conditions.

As well as the GBP30,000 cash surety and prohibition on contacting the driver, McGeown was barred from having a mobile phone with internet access.

The judge also directed: “The applicant is to give up his Irish passport.”