Gang violence fears after drugs bust uncovers huge arms find
The seizure of an arsenal of high-powered weapons has raised fears of an increase in violent drugs gangs in Northern Ireland similar to those which have plagued larger inner cities elsewhere in the UK and Ireland. A drugs gang selling thousands of pounds of deadly substances in the province had a haul of munitions including grenades, handguns and a sub-machine-gun.
A detective leading the investigation into the gang's activity in Londonderry said the seizure showed the lethal capabilities of such organised crime groups.
Detective Inspector Tom McClure said there was a sinister similarity between the gang and those associated with cities such as Liverpool and Dublin.
There was no mention in court or by police of any link between the gang and paramilitaries.
Gang leader Gary McPhillips (30) was sentenced to eight years and Ryan O'Reilly (28) for two years.
Officers from Organised Crime Branch seized £20,000 worth of ecstasy and methedrone, three guns, ammunition, two high-explosive military-specification hand grenades, an electronic stun gun and a CS gas canister during a raid on a flat at Hawkin Street in the city centre in December 2012.
McPhillips admitted possessing the items, most of which had been hidden in his roof space.
In total 764 ecstasy tablets and 300g of methedrone were discovered. McPhillips, who was jailed for three years in Belgium in December 2010 for drugs trafficking, had hidden the drugs inside a chest freezer in his flat.
Police said he was a key drugs smuggler into Northern Ireland.
The search came as part of a follow-up investigation into the seizure of £800,000 worth of cannabis in the Glengalliagh area of Derry the previous May.
As a result of that operation Mark McPhillips - a brother of Gary McPhillips - was previously jailed for seven years and stripped of his assets after he was caught driving a van loaded with kitchen units containing the drugs.
Judge Philip Babington yesterday said Gary McPhillips had been forensically linked to all of the weaponry and explosives found in the roof space above his flat.
"He told the author of a pre-sentence report that it was because of a lack of money that he became involved in the supply of drugs again," said the judge at the Crown Court in Derry.
"He was getting a cut of the drugs for his own use and says that he was looking after the weaponry because he owed money to another drugs dealer.
"That is not a view that is accepted by the police as such.
"The grenades found were similar to those used by Dale Cregan when he killed two police women in 2012 in Manchester. This shows just how lethal these grenades could be."
O'Reilly (28) from Meadowbank Court in Derry, who admitted possessing a blank firing pistol found among the weaponry, was jailed for two years.