Man in court over drugs allegedly linked to UVF gang

A man accused of having five kilos of cannabis allegedly linked to the East Belfast UVF crime gang was remanded into custody on Saturday.

efusing to free 23-year-old Ethan Cherry due to a risk of further offenses, 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 video link from police custody, Cherry, from Trassey Close in the Cregagh area city, confirmed that he understood the four charges against him, allegedly committed on April 1.

The charges include possessing cannabis and having the Class B drug with intent to supply.

Cherry is also accused of 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 crime of the East Belfast UVF”.

He said Cherry was stopped and searched on the Upper Hightown Road on Friday morning.

Officers noted he had “white powder about him” and when his car was searched cops found five kilos of cannabis hidden in two holdalls in the back seat.

Arrested and interviewed, Cherry claimed he was “under threat from a drugs criminal gang” but did not give 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 leg living”.

Claiming he didn’t know drugs were in the bags, Cherry alleged that two days prior he had been told to go to a nearby filling station on Friday morning and to buy petrol. He was told that 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 when he was stopped.

But the officer explained that, according to his mother, Cherry had stayed in Trassey Close just one night out of the past four months and so police were “pretty sure he doesn’t live there”.

Asked by District Judge 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”.

Defense 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 offenses.

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

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