Newry shop owner bail refused in multi-million-pound drug charges

Peter Bayne

Reporter:

Peter Bayne

Email:

peter.bayne@newrydemocrat.com

By Donal McMahon

Bail has been refused for a Newry shop keeper charged with being involved in a multi-million-pound drug dealing network in connection to the UK’s biggest investigation into serious criminality.

Father of two, William Hewitt (33) of Lower Foughill Road, Jonesborough is further charged with being concerned in the supply of class A drugs (cocaine), being concerned in the supply of class B drug (cannabis) and conspiracy to fraudulently import class B drugs on dates from March 25, and June 15, 2020

PSNI Detective Constable Kincaid told the Armagh magistrates sitting in Newry court that he could connect the accused to the charges.

The defendant is charged in connection with a National Crime Agency seizure of 14 classic vehicles valued up to £750k from the Newry area on Monday following searches of outside the accused’s home address and a rented shed on the Newtownhamilton Road.

The searches were carried out as part of Operation ‘Venetic’ is part of the UK’s biggest law enforcement investigation against serious and organised criminality.

The defendant who appeared at Newry magistrates via video link from Lurgan PSNI custody suite said he understood the charges.

Prosecution barrister, Robin Steer objected to a bail application due to risk of flight, further offending and potential to frustrate the investigation at an early stage.

The accused was arrested in the Newry area yesterday as part of the National Crime Agency-led operation Venetic launched following the exposure of ‘Encrochat’ secure mobiles used by criminal gangs across Europe.

Dozens of alleged crime gang members have since been arrested in Northern Ireland accused of using the encrypted mobile phones for illegal activities involving major drug importation and supply.

The phones are said to cost between £1,200 and £1,500 allowing for secret messaging across the internet.

Many of the defendants have since been released on bail.

Mr Steer told the magistrates that an encrypted phone was seized with images and texts relating to the defendant whose name ‘Hewitt’ was used as well as the code name ‘Eagle Toxic’.

It is alleged that the defendant is claimed to be the “only one Hewitt” and that he was as “rare as my car collection”.

He also is said to have text that he was a “legend” with a photograph of the accused in a bath wearing a “crucifix necklace”.

Following a PSNI search of Mr Hewitt’s property, a notebook was discovered hidden behind a microwave.

Mr Steer stated that the drug deal book disclosed accounts of hundreds of thousands of pounds totalling £2million for slang name drugs of ‘polly’, ‘green’ and ‘paint’.

Defence solicitor, John Murphy asked the court to consider his client’s significant ties to the Newry area as the main manager of a local family owned business in the city with a £10k cash surety offered.

“The police attended his address whilst he was there with his family,” said Mr Murphy.

“The fact that he lives close to the order does not give a higher risk of absconding, anywhere in Northern Ireland is close to the border.

“He has two young children aged three and 11 months and his wife is pregnant with a third child.

“He has family in Newry and his wife in south Armagh.

“He has known of the Encryption investigation for since June last year and has not made any steps to remove himself.

“Any assets he has could now also be frozen,” added the solicitor.

Deputy district judge Phillip Mateer alluded to the risks highlighted by the prosecution and refused the bail application.

“I am not satisfied that any conditions could be imposed to give confidence to the court that he would not abscond,” said Mr Mateer.

The defendant was informed of his right to appeal before being remanded into custody.

The case was adjourned to March 24 at Newry magistrates court.

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