Golfer 'set up over cocaine find'

Top Irish golfer Garth McGimpsey, who has been cleared of any link to a drugs seizure, claimed today he may have been the victim of a set-up.

He was arrested in May when Customs officers searched his home in Bangor, Co Down, and found £60,000 (€90,600) of cocaine in a parcel which had just arrived from Amsterdam.

McGimpsey, 49, the non-playing captain of the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team, has been freed from bail and told he is no longer part of the investigation.

Nobody has been charged in connection with the find, but McGimpsey, who protested his innocence from the moment he was detained, fears the affair could have been an attempt to frame him.

He said today: “A stain on my character has been removed, but it might never disappear until we find out who exactly was responsible for this, and why.”

McGimpsey was questioned just once, for over two hours at Newtownards, Co Down, where he protested his innocence.

A Customs and Excise spokesman confirmed: “He has been released from bail. He has not been charged.”

He was forced to postpone a visit to Buckingham Place to be awarded the MBE for his services to sport because of the inquiry. New arrangements are now being made.

He is also due to leave for America later this month as part of preparations for the defence of the Walker Cup in Chicago next year.

McGimpsey, a member of the R&A at St Andrews, who works as an agent for several leading golf sportswear firms, was capped 226 times for Ireland, and won 14 championships, including the British Amateur in 1985.

A father of three, he is separated and due to divorce later this year.

McGimpsey today spoke of his devastation at his arrest on May 13, and how his life had effectively been put on hold.

He said: “Customs and Excise have informed me that I am no longer part of their investigation, which is on-going, and I’m hugely relieved.

“The last 10 weeks have been horrendous for my close family, particularly my mother. Even though I protested my innocence from the very outset, it’s as if I’ve been to hell and back. I have been the subject of all sorts of rumour, gossip and innuendo.

“There were times when I was in the depths of despair, chiefly because I was unable to make any public statement while I was under investigation.

“But the support I received from people all over Ireland and throughout the UK – some of whom I didn’t even know – was unbelievable and helped sustain me through this crisis. I don’t think I could have got through this ordeal without them.

“Given the circumstances of this inquiry, I can understand their curiosity and bewilderment and they were entitled to ask questions. Why was this package addressed to my house? Why me?

“I can’t answer that because I just don’t know. Was I set up in some way? Hopefully at some stage in the future, Customs and Excise will be able to give me a full explanation, because I want closure on this matter.

“It was a Thursday morning, around 9.30, and I was at home on my own. The doorbell rang. A parcel was delivered. Getting parcels was nothing unusual because, due to the business I’m in, I get samples all the time.

“I set it down in the hallway. It was a cardboard box, two feet by two feet and taped. It was addressed to me and had an Amsterdam postmark. I didn’t think there was anything unusual about that either, even though none of the companies I work for is based there. They are in Cork, Sweden and London.

“A couple of minutes later I opened it. The first thing I saw was a football, then a teddy bear, three tennis balls in a plastic tube and two boxes of sweets in see- through containers.

“Then at the bottom of the box were six packages, in brown paper and also taped. I immediately became suspicious. I picked one up, but didn’t know what it was – explosives, drugs, or whatever. I just didn’t know.

“Two minutes later, three cars pulled up in the driveway and two Customs men jumped out, knocked on the door and demanded to be let in.

“They read me my rights and said they were investigating these six packages. I told them I knew nothing about them. It was nothing to do with me. I hadn’t even opened them, and didn’t know what they contained.

“They told me it was drugs and my initial reaction was: ‘This is some sort of mistake, or I’ve been set up’. I knew I was in serious trouble, but I also knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I’d be OK.

“It all happened so quickly. Just before they arrived, I had thought about contacting the police, but didn’t have the number for Bangor station. I didn’t even have time to look it up.

“I co-operated fully with the Customs people. They took away my computer. It has been returned, but I’m still waiting for my mobile. They couldn’t have been more courteous. They have always been fair and straight.

“I had to answer bail every 28 days. It was as if I was living in a 28-day cycle. I just wanted it over and done with, to get this weight off my shoulders.

“Even though I’ve been released from bail, I am more than happy to help them with any further inquiries because I want a result to all of this, just as much as they do. I have a right to know.

“It’s had a devastating impact on me. My life has been virtually on hold for the last three months. It has been violated in the most unimaginable way, and although I’ve tried my best to live as normal as one as humanly possible, this has been a humiliating and chastening experience.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, but it proves how completely innocent people can find themselves in this situation and it should act as a warning.

“I despise drugs and loathe the people who supply and distribute them, particularly to young people whose lives are wasted. It ruins families and communities. I’ve never taken drugs in my life. I don’t even smoke.

“I have three children of my own, and like every other responsible parent, I want them to grow up and develop in an environment free of drugs, to stay healthy and fit.

“There were days when I just wanted to scream from the rooftops. But for legal reasons, I was prohibited from saying anything. It was so, so difficult. It was surreal and I’ve suffered dreadfully and it has taken its toll.

“Playing golf at the highest level for almost 30 years toughens you mentally, but nothing can prepare you for this. I didn’t run away and hide, because I never doubted for one minute, the outcome would be anything other than this.

“Many, many people stood by me. There were letters from everywhere, telephone calls, including one from Tokyo. People may have found it awkward, but it didn’t stop them coming up to me on the street, in the shops and on the golf course offering their support and best wishes.

“It was amazing and it enabled me to draw enormous strength from those acts of kindness, particularly when I was at my lowest.

“I want to try and put this all behind me now, get on with my life.”

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