DRUGS VALUED conservatively at more than £2 million (€2.3 million) have been seized and nine suspects arrested in a joint police operation across three counties in Northern Ireland northern England.
The PSNI, working alongside detectives from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the Greater Manchester Police and the Lancashire Constabulary, found cocaine, amphetamines (speed) and herbal cannabis along with £100,000 (€115,000) in sterling and euro notes.
Paramilitary involvement is not suspected.
Searches were carried out on Saturday in Down, Armagh and Antrim. The seizures were made in Kilkeel, Co Down, and in the greater Belfast area and another consignment was found in Preston, Lancashire, following a year-long investigation.
Five people have been arrested in Northern Ireland and four in England. Eight of them are being questioned at the PSNI’s serious crime suite in Antrim.
The five suspects arrested in Northern Ireland and three of those detained in England are all men and are being questioned in Antrim. The final suspect is a woman and she is being held in England.
One of the male suspects is Dutch, the woman is English and the rest are believed to come from Northern Ireland.
Det Supt Esmond Adair said the discoveries were the “most significant” the PSNI has made.
“The high quality and purity of these drugs are very significant,” he said. “These drugs would have been cut up and we would have had significant quantities going to street level.”
Three searches were carried out in Kilkeel, the focus of the PSNI’s investigation, where nearly 50kg of drugs, believed to have originated in the Netherlands, was found on board a lorry. Other searches were carried out in Belfast and Lisburn in Co Antrim; Hillsborough, Co Down; and in Lurgan, Co Armagh.
Other drugs discoveries were made in both Preston and Manchester in England.
Mr Adair said: “We are delighted with the amount of drugs which we have seized and the number of arrests which have been made. We believe we have dismantled an organised crime gang which was importing drugs into Northern Ireland.
“We have been watching locations, vehicles and individuals. Within the past week, we started to get a clearer picture of the gang’s activities and decided to move to an overt stage of the operation on Saturday, which culminated in these significant seizures and arrests.”
The PSNI yesterday displayed the haul of drugs recovered in Kilkeel which included some 6kg cocaine, 22kg of speed and 20kg of herbal cannabis.
In follow-up searches in the greater Belfast area a further 6kg of speed was seized along with the cash.
In England the same PSNI-led operation led to the search of a house in Preston where what is believed to be 1kg of cocaine, 22kg of speed and 20kg of herbal cannabis were seized.
The PSNI, clearly pleased at the success of the operation, is anticipating that moves to seize criminal assets could be made.
Mr Adair said: “This is one of the most significant seizures in recent times. We believe the drugs were brought into the UK from Holland before being taken to Northern Ireland. We believe they have a high purity value which would enable them to be ‘cut’ several times before reaching the streets. Their ultimate value may be much higher than our current £2 million estimate.
“We have worked with our partners in SOCA, Greater Manchester Police and Lancashire Constabulary to bring this to a successful outcome. We believe an organised crime gang was importing drugs into Northern Ireland. We have taken drugs and cash out of circulation and as a consequence have removed serious harm from our streets.”
By DAN KEENAN