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Tyrone taxi driver admitted being drug ‘courier’ after almost £500,000 cannabis recovered

Three people have been remanded in custody after almost £1/2 million in cannabis was recovered from a taxi in an underground car park and an apartment in Belfast.

Appear at a special sitting of Belfast Magistrates’ Court was Damien Gildernew (44) of Legane Road, Aughnacloy, Jia Yu (40) of Sandy Row, Belfast and Xiao Peng Wen (33) of no fixed abode who are jointly charged with possessing cannabis and intending to supply

Gildernew is further charged with attempting to export cannabis.

Yu and Wen are also charged with being concerned in the supply of cannabis and illegal entry into the United Kingdom.

A detective constable said charges against all accused could be connected, explaining a pro-active investigation into organised crime was ongoing for a year then, “reignited in June.”

Between March and September 2020, three packages of herbal cannabis totalling 18 kilos were destined for Gildernew’s Aughnacloy address.

Since then, the investigation continued and on 17 September,  Gildernew was stopped while driving a taxi in the underground car park of an apartment block at Sandy Row, Belfast. The male co-accused Wen was onboard and on pulling in, the female co-accused  Yu emerged from an apartment.

Evidence has been gathered showing this pattern of events occurring on numerous occasions.

The taxi was searched and 10 kilos of herbal cannabis was discovered in the boot. When the apartment associated with the Yu was searched, a further 16 kilos of cannabis was located in a cupboard in vacuum packed bags.

The estimated street value of the seized drugs is £440,000.

Gildernew’s home was searched and while nothing was recovered, his phone was seized.

He was arrested and while in custody stated the fare was a one-off from Dungannon to Belfast and maintained this version over some time.

When further evidence was put to him, he admitted being, “a regular courier of the Chinese male”.

He accepted knowing it was drugs run and got paid £120 per return journey from Dungannon to Belfast.

Gildernew claimed because of Covid, funds were scarce and he “was greedy – it was easy money”.

Objecting to bail, the detective said police do not believe he is a drug supplier but is suspected of involvement as, “a cog in the wheel of an organised crime gang, using his guise as a taxi-driver to facilitate the movement and supply of drugs. The drugs were distributed and broken up ready for other members of the gang to supply within Belfast.”

She added with £440,000 in drugs removed, there are fears of obstructing justice and potential reoffending.

Applying for bail, a defending solicitor for Gildernew said he initially wasn’t aware of what was going on, and when it evolved, he, “turned a blind eye”.

It was contended: “He has no previous record and insists evidence will show he has no role other than taxiing. He is willing to surrender his taxi licence and sign with police daily if required, should bail be granted.”

District Judge Amanda Henderson however refused pointing out this latest detection alone recovered almost half a million in drugs.

“I’ve no idea how much drugs were involved in total. This defendant has certainly been observed by police with the co-accused on a number of occasions. There is a large loss to someone in terms of drug revenue. The risk of reoffending and inference is just too strong.”

A lawyer for Tu and Wen said bail was not sought at this stage.

All are to appear by videolink on October 7.

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