Northern Ireland

Drugs 'mastermind' Mark Dunford refused bail

A gym owner accused of being a drugs "mastermind" following seizures valued at £220,000 must remain in custody, a High Court judge ruled on Thursday.

Mark Dunford was seeking bail on charges linked to the recovery of amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy.

The 38-year-old, of Ballylagan Lane, Coleraine, faces charges of conspiracy to supply Class A, B and C drugs, and encouraging or assisting offences.

The judge refused to grant bail due to the risk of re-offending.

Mr Dunford was arrested earlier this year as part of an ongoing investigation into a number of seizures made last September.

Amphetamines with an estimated street value of £20,000 were recovered from a car allegedly being driven by a co-accused in Ballymena.

'The main man'

A jar containing ecstasy tablets worth £11,000 was later found under shrubs in the front garden of that suspect's home.

As part of the same operation another man was arrested in Coleraine after cocaine valued at £15,000 was seized from another vehicle.

Further searches of a transit van led to the discovery of nine sealed bags of amphetamines inside a household oven.

According to the prosecution those drugs weighed 2kg (4.4lbs) and are estimated to be worth at least £180,000.

Mr Dunford was detained after that suspect claimed he was told to collect the oven during a telephone conversation with "the main man", the court was previously told.

Call data and cell-site analysis allegedly links him to the operation.

Financial investigation

Police believe a mobile phone used by the suspects travelled with him on a trip to England eight days before the initial arrests.

In court on Thursday a defence lawyer described the evidence against Dunford as entirely circumstantial.

During exchanges the judge said to the barrister: "I don't know whether the other persons are alleged to be foot soldiers or something above that, but the police are making the case that your client Mr Dunford was the mastermind."

The lawyer responded that police had made assumptions after a co-accused referred to a main man giving him orders without naming Mr Dunford.

"He maintains his innocence," the lawyer added.

A full financial investigation has also been carried out into the affairs of Mr Dunford, who owns a gym business in Coleraine.

'Extremely serious'

Despite this no attempt has been made to restrain any assets - pointing to a clean bill of health, according to the defence.

Cash sureties were available from Mr Dunford's wife and a business associate who runs a karate club in the town.

Refusing bail due to the risk of re-offending the judge said Mr Dunford was "described by police, through counsel, as the mastermind".

"On the basis of what the court has been told he has, at least on a prima facie basis, involved himself in well-organised, extremely serious drugs offences," he said.