High security prison officer 'a key player in organised crime gang'

A prison officer charged with dealing drugs inside a high-security jail is a "key player" in an organised crime gang, a court has been told.

Stephen Brian Martin, 23, was arrested at Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland on Friday after arriving for work with packets containing suspected cocaine, cannabis and diazepam tablets stashed in his boots.

A detective constable told a district judge that he played a central role in a drug trafficking racket both within the prison and outside in the wider community.

"He is a key player in an organised crime gang," said the officer.

"Without him this activity couldn't happen within the prison."

Applying for bail at Lisburn Magistrates' Court, Martin's defence lawyer claimed he had been forced into bringing the items into the prison by an inmate who had been threatening him that he knew where he and his girlfriend lived.

"He was in over his head and put under pressure by a prisoner to bring these items in and foolishly he succumbed," the solicitor told the court.

District judge Rosemary Watters rejected the bail bid and remanded Martin into custody. She agreed with the police objections that the accused posed a risk of offending if bailed, and could potentially interfere with the ongoing investigation.

Dressed in a grey three-piece suit, white shirt and blue tie, bearded Martin spoke only twice to confirm his name and that he understood the charges. He sat looking downward during Monday's remand hearing.

The officer faces a total of 16 charges - including possession with intent to supply class A, B and C drugs; conspiracy to supply the same three classes of drugs; misconduct in a public office; and conveying prohibited items into a prison.

He is due to appear before the same court, via video-link, on September 18.

he court heard that Martin's father is also a prison officer and his mother formerly worked for the service.

The accused has only been employed as a prison officer since January, having previously worked for a pharmaceutical company for six years.

The court was told that, when Martin arrived for work on Friday, he was asked to undergo a search. He refused and subsequently admitted he had two bags of drugs concealed in his boots, claiming he was "under duress" to take them into the prison. He was then arrested by police.

The court heard that CCTV evidence obtained from inside Maghaberry showed Martin "acting suspiciously" with prisoners. The detective alleged that the prison officer handed over drugs to inmates in a storeroom away from the cameras.

He said evidence in the case also included a recorded telephone conversation involving a prisoner and his mother which, though coded, appeared to reference the transportation of drugs into Maghaberry.

Police believe Martin was the man who was to take those drugs inside.

The officer told the judge that the prisoner's mother's phone number was found in Martin's car.

He said a subsequent search of Martin's house recovered suspected cannabis, cocaine, anabolic steroids and needles along with paraphernalia including "deal bags".

A mobile phone was also recovered from the property which, the officer claimed, contained "insurmountable" evidence of Martin's involvement in drug dealing inside and outside Maghaberry.

He said that during police interview the defendant repeatedly refused to name anyone else involved in the alleged criminal enterprise. The detective said there was also evidence that social media postings which indicated his involvement in the drugs trade had been deleted since his arrest.

Martin's solicitor said a prisoner had forced his client to take drugs into the jail.

"This person came to him and said 'I know your girlfriend's name, I know your car registration, I know your address'," he told the court.

He added: "He perceived this to be a credible threat against him and his family."

The lawyer said the anabolic steroids found in Martin's house were used by him for weightlifting and he claimed the needles were "tanning" injections he was using before going on holiday.

"He was supposed to be going on holiday with his girlfriend this morning," he added.

The solicitor said the accused's girlfriend was standing by him. He said his father and grandfather had attended court for the remand hearing and were willing to provide sureties for bail.

"His father is devastated by this but he is supporting his son," he said.

The detective rejected the theory that Martin was acting under duress, claiming the recorded CCTV exchanges with prisoners appeared "jovial".

"He doesn't appear to be under duress," he said.

Judge Watters said Martin should have known to alert prison authorities if he was subject to any threats from prisoners.

The detective constable said police also had a "public safety" concern around granting bail, given that the illicit drugs trade had been responsible for deaths in Northern Ireland.

Two women, aged 26 and 55, were arrested on Friday in connection with the investigation.

Drugs were also recovered during searches in Lisburn and Dungannon.

The women were subsequently released on bail pending further inquiries.

AP


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