Gang accused of stealing 150,000 cigarettes


TWO Dublin men have gone on trial in Belfast, accused of being part of an eight man "criminal gang" which allegedly robbed a west Belfast wholesalers of 150,000 cigarettes last February.

Mr Jeffrey Foot QC, prosecuting, claimed that Mr Desmond Christie (32), and Mr Derek Sweetman (38) told police they were "picking up a load" when arrested along with six Belfast men during a raid on Holmes Cash and Carry on February 12th last year.

It took more than two hours and 128 objections from both defence and prosecution before the jury was selected from a 390 member panel.

Mr Justice Higgins was told that the gang forced the depot manager to return to the Boucher Road warehouse after taking his wife and three young children hostage. At the depot, the evening supervisor and seven other staff members were ordered to go to the staff canteen, where they were held by one of the gang.

Mr Foot claimed Mr Martin Devlin (31), from Norglen Road, Belfast, allegedly pretended to be a member of staff.

The lawyer said one of the Dublin men, Mr Christie, of Rathoath Drive, was arrested in a Volvo lorry brought by the gang, while the second Dubliner, Mr Sweetman, from Dingle Road, Cabra, was caught with another defendant, Mr Christopher Moran (39), from Rock Grove, Belfast, in the warehouse.

The court was told that two other alleged members of the gang were also arrested in the warehouse, Mr Seamus Hawkins (53), of Summerhill Gardens, Dunmurray, and Mr Bernard McElkerney (39), of Ross Street, Belfast.

Also arrested in the warehouse was a Falls Road man, Mr Michael Russell (25). Mr Foot said the last member of the gang, Mr Kevin McCaffrey (32), of Riverdale Park South, Belfast, was caught as he tried to run away.

The trial of the eight, who deny charges of armed robbery and false imprisonment, continues today.