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£2m drug smugglers jailed after year-long operation by PSNI

By Donna Deeney

Published 02/12/2016

Jailed: Declan Gallagher
Jailed: Declan Gallagher
Jailed: Scott Sotherton

A criminal gang behind a £2m drug smuggling operation between Northern Ireland and Greater Manchester have been handed a combined prison sentence of more than 40 years.

The "organiser and director" of the entire operation - Declan Gallagher from Londonderry - was handed a nine-year prison sentence, half of which will be served on licence.

Declan Paul Palmer, Gallagher's "trusted lieutenant", was handed a three-and-a-half year stretch behind bars followed by the same on licence.

In late 2008, dissident republicans tried to murder Gallagher, shooting him at his home in Co Donegal.

Details of the case are only now being made public as the defendants had their identities protected by reporting restrictions, which have now been lifted.

In total, 12 defendants with addresses in Londonderry, Belfast and Greater Manchester faced a variety of charges relating to one of the biggest drug seizures by the PSNI.

The operation lasted almost a year, from September 2013 to August 2014.

Seven of the other defendants - Michael Rainey, Philip Colville, Edward Cameron, Raymond Hamilton, Benjamin Harding, Ryan Ratcliffe and Scott Sotherton - will serve three-year sentences, half in custody and half on licence.

Three other defendants - including two of Declan Gallagher's siblings, Peter and Louise Gallagher - and Patrick Ward, were all given sentences of between 12 and 18 months, suspended for between two and three years.

Judge Philip Babington said: "It became evident that Declan Gallagher was heavily involved in the directing and controlling the operation of the gang.

"He was the centre of this criminal offending and others were involved at his behest in one way or another, he was in essence the leader of this criminal enterprise."

During the police operation - codenamed Meris - police intercepted six drug shipments of both cocaine and cannabis at Belfast, Antrim, Hillsborough, Larne and two in Derry.

Welcoming the sentences, Detective Inspector Tom McClure described Declan Gallagher as "the leader of an organised crime network involved in the supply of large quantities of illegal drugs".

He added: "In late 2008 a gang of criminal vigilantes thought the answer to the problem was to try and murder him.

"Not only was this wrong from every perspective but it didn't solve anything, in fact it made the problem worse in that Gallagher fled to Manchester from where he continued to supply drugs into Northern Ireland, only on a grander scale."

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