Mobile phones found hidden in kitchen extractor fan at home of man police believe is at a “high level” in drugs trade

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Mobile phones were found hidden inside an extractor fan in the flat of a Coleraine man who police claim is involved at a “high level” in the drugs trade, a court heard on Monday.

Aidan Malachy Michael Austin (42), of Hazelbank Court, faces two charges of possessing criminal property. It is alleged he had the criminal property on December 3 last year and also between that date and February 27 this year.

The accused appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court today via video link from Maghaberry Prison where he has been on remand on the charges.

A police officer objected to bail and said that police attended an alleged domestic incident at Austin’s flat last December and found three mobile phones including two hidden inside an extractor fan in a kitchen while £5,340 was found under the defendant’s mattress. The officer said one of the phones had a Dutch sim card and police believed Austin was “heavily involved in criminality”.

In February this year the officer said police searched Austin’s flat under warrant and found £1,000 sitting on a sofa beside the defendant and £5,000 cash hidden above a kitchen cabinet. Three more mobile phones were also found.

The officer said detectives believe the defendant is “actively involved in the supply of controlled drugs” and is “well known to police”. The officer said Austin was given a five year jail term in 2013 for conspiracy to supply drugs and police believe he is at “such a high level” that he is a “controller” who “controls other people”. The detective said the Dutch sim card indicated there was an “international aspect”. The officer said the accused said he bought the phone with the Dutch sim card from a man in a bar and that it didn’t work.

The officer told the court people in the drug trade would normally have a “clean phone” and usually one or two other phones “which they use for criminality”. The policeman said the defendant keeps re-offending and in November last year he received a suspended sentence and a few weeks later police recovered cash in his his apartment.

Defence solicitor Garrett Greene said the defendant was not charged with any drugs offences and his client had denied the charges he faces. The police officer said Austin alleged the £1,000 on the sofa had been loaned to him. Mr Greene said other people had access to the flat.

The officer said other people were unlikely to leave such large amounts of money in somebody else’s apartment.

Mr Greene said it appeared the Dutch phone had never been used and the officer said they have contacted Dutch police. Mr Greene said five of the phones were triaged and there was “nothing arising”.

The officer said there were “ten to twenty names, all nicknames” on a phone and some of those people have convictions for drugs offences. Mr Greene said the defendant’s father was in court and willing to sign a bail surety and the lawyer said Austin’s partner was in employment and could offer her address in Derry for bail.

District Judge Liam McNally refused bail saying he took into account Austin’s convictions for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and then last year the defendant was convicted for being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs.
A few weeks later a search of the defendant’s home found substantial sums of cash, the judge said. Refusing bail, Judge McNally told Austin there was a “very high risk of you continuing in further involvement in crime”.

The defendant was remanded in continuing custody and the case was adjourned until April.

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