Link to £1m Belfast drug haul denied


A prisoner who set up home in the British holiday resort of Blackpool

while on the run from jail in Northern Ireland appeared in court inBelfast today charged in connection with a £1m (sterling) drugs seizure.

Mr William McCluskey (49) appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court ontwo charges of possessing cannabis and ecstasy and two of possessionwith intent to supply.

He was remanded in custody until Friday.

The drugs haul, one of the largest seizures in Northern Ireland inrecent years, was found when police stopped a van in north Belfast onMarch 1st. Three men were arrested.

Mr McCluskey's solicitor told the court that when his client wasarrested he was "absent without leave from Maghaberry Prison for sometwo years and had been living and working in England".

He said his client had insisted throughout police questioning thathe was innocent of any drugs charge and had purely been a passengerin the van which, he said, contained 25,000 ecstasy tabs and 69 kilosof cannabis.

McCluskey had no connection with the drugs and had never touchedthem, his solicitor said. His clothes had been taken for forensicexamination by police and he was confident the charges would bedropped when the test results were known.

On Saturday Mr Simon Andrew Wood (35) from Morcambe, Lancs, appearedin the same court on similar charges. He was remanded in custody. The third man arrested in connection with the drugs sizure was released without charge.

Mr McCluskey, who had been serving nine years for armed robbery, wenton the run after failing to return to Maghaberry Prison following aperiod of parole.