A judge gave two Co Antrim men he described as ‘Laurel and Hardy type characters’ suspended jail sentences today (Friday) after they were caught with £25,000 in counterfeit bank notes.
Andrew Hoey (37), of Ballycraigy Gardens, Newtownabbey, and John Francis Boyd (36), of Bawnmore Drive, Newtownabbey, both pleaded guilty to possessing counterfeit money and possessing the fake cash with intent to pass it on to others.
Belfast Crown Court heard that during a PSNI intelligence-led operation, police officers stopped a Peugeot 308 car on the Mill Road in Newtownabbey on July 2, 2015.
Hoey was the driver of the car while Boyd was a front seat passenger.
Prosecution barrister Kate McKay said the two men “appeared nervous” and they were asked if they had anything in the car they should not have, Boyd pointed to a bag in the front footwell of the car.
Police searched the vehicle and found £25,000 in counterfeit notes inside the bag relating to the First Trust Bank, Bank of Ireland and Danske Bank. Two mobile phones were also seized.
The court heard that one legitimate £5 note was found among the large bundle of fake notes.
During police interviews, Hoey claimed he found the bag outside the SSE Arena in Belfast and Boyd claimed he was getting a lift.
The court was told that the ‘Mr Big’ police suspected of being behind the counterfeit money operation was later addressed, but due to a lack evidence no charges were brought.
However, Mrs McKay told the court that the mastermind was before another court on similar matters and his criminal counterfeiting operation had since been “dismantled”.
The prosecution lawyer handed a sample quantity of the fake notes to Judge Geoffrey Miller QC who after inspection remarked: “We have all seen various quantities of counterfeit notes over the years, but these look more like genuine than several variations that I have seen.”
Defence barrister Paul Bacon told the court that Hoey accepted the “gravamen of the case and that these are serious offences”.
Saying Hoey was paid £100 to become involved in moving the counterfeit money, Mr Bacon added: “It is quite clear that he was prevailed upon by more sinister elements to get involved in this enterprise.”
Defence barrister Denis Boyd said Boyd now “deeply, deeply regretted” becoming involved in the criminal enterprise and “foolishly” accepted his role in this operation to get some “easy money”.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said it was clear Hoey and Boyd were “Laurel and Hardy type characters” who had been used by “gangsters, or some may call paramilitaries, but they are still gangsters, further up the food chain” who were not before the court.
The judge said that the custody threshold had been passed and sentenced Hoey to 18 months in custody and Boyd to 15 months in jail, but said he would suspend those sentences for a period of two years.
Warning them that if they breached the suspended sentences, Judge Miller QC said they would be brought back before him and the jail sentences would be put into effect, adding: “This is no idle threat. This is your last opportunity. Make sure you both take it.”
The judge ordered the destruction of the counterfeit money, save for the legitimate £5 note which is to be donated to the PSNI’s nominated Cancer Focus charity.