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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 16:09 GMT
Lorry driver jailed for drugs run
High Court in Edinburgh
Coombs was sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh
A long-distance lorry driver who was caught transporting 250,000 of cannabis for paramilitaries in Northern Ireland has been jailed for four years.

Gareth Coombs was stopped at the embarkation area of the ferry port at Cairnryan, near Stranraer, and found to have the 100kg drugs haul.

The 31-year-old Belfast man travelled between Northern Ireland and Britain about three times a week.

Coombs was sentenced on Friday at the High Court in Edinburgh.

His counsel Frances Connor told Judge Lord Abernethy that her client felt "some relief" when he was stopped as he was worried he would be asked to undertake further work for paramilitaries.

The judge said he was prepared to accept that Coombs was under pressure from others but, given the quantity of drugs involved, the crime was very serious.

He (Coombs) understood the penalty for him would be death and he would be killed
Frances Connor
Defence counsel
Miss Connor said that before Christmas in 2003 a stranger approached Coombs and provoked him into a fight.

Coombs got the better of the aggressor and thought nothing more about it afterwards.

But a few days later he was picked up by three men and taken to a house in Belfast where he was told the man he had fought with was a member of a paramilitary group.

He was told he would have to pay a penalty.

Miss Connor said: "He understood the penalty for him would be death and he would be killed."

Coombs had previously been subjected to a punishment shooting in 1996, when he was wounded in the calf.

Shots fired

After his latest run-in with the group he was initially allowed to go after being told they had still to decide who would carry out the punishment.

But he was approached again and told that if he made a collection in the UK and brought it back to Northern Ireland then he would be in the clear.

Miss Connor said Coombs now wonders if the latest fight was manufactured because it was known what his occupation was.

The father-of-three demanded to know what he was to transport and "almost felt relief" when he was told it was 100kg of cannabis and not firearms.

Miss Connor said that after Coombs was arrested and was being held on remand a shot was fired through a window at his mother's house in the Westland area of north Belfast, where he had been living.

The defence counsel said he took this as a warning not to disclose details about the group or its members.

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