Two dummy runs were made between Spain and Northern Ireland before cannabis with a street value of £18 million (€27 million) was smuggled into the province, it was revealed today.

The runs, without drugs, were made from Madrid in January and May ahead of the transportation of 3.5 tonnes of cannabis this month.

It was seized at a freight company in Co Down last week - the largest ever drugs seizure in both weight and value ever made in Northern Ireland.

The dummy runs were revealed by the crown when one of two men accused of possessing the drugs with intent to supply sought bail in the High Court in Belfast.

Opposing bail crown barrister Charles McKay said freight company managing director Martin Kirfoot was caught ``red handed'' with the ``colossal'' quantity of drugs when police raided the premises of his Privilege removal and storage company on an industrial estate in Newtownards last Monday.

Mr Kirfoot, he said, told police he had been acting under paramilitary duress after being threatened and attacked .

The Englishman now resident in Northern Ireland claimed he had been introduced to a paramilitary by a man called Dave two years ago and asked to bring pallets into Northern Ireland, said Mr McKay.

After refusing he was beaten up and threatened with a 9mm Browning pistol, Mr Kirfoot told police.

The Judge, Mr Justice Wetherup, said the police investigation was at an early stage and they were concerned it could be interfered with.

He said: ``At this stage I am satisfied this is a case on which bail should not be granted.''

However he said he was adjourning a final decision until November 6th to see how the police investigation was proceeding.