Seven jailed over drug operation
Seven crime gang members involved in a £2.5 million drugs smuggling operation in Belfast have been jailed.
Gang leader Ryan Joseph Black, 29, received the longest term, seven and a half years, with a man described as his "trusted lieutenant" William Johnston, 35, given six years and nine months at Belfast Crown Court.
A major drugs manufacturing operation was uncovered in a city centre flat as part of a police operation in 2010 to disrupt the gang.
All seven men involved plead guilty to charges facing them prior to the start of their trial.
Black, whose address cannot be published for legal reasons, and Johnston, of Windermere Park, Belfast, have to serve half the terms in custody, with the remainder on licence. Both men have already spent a substantial period of time in prison on remand since their arrests in December 2010. This time served will be deducted from the sentences handed down by Judge David McFarland.
Around 52,000 illicit tablets, 30kg of cannabis resin, 1kg of cocaine and £15,000 in cash were part of the haul found in the Laganview Court apartment near Queen's Bridge in Belfast. A hydraulic press for making cocaine, an industrial blender, cutting agent, boards, scales and knives were also seized from inside the property, which was fitted with black-out blinds.
The flat was searched by officers in December 2010 shortly after police intercepted the transfer of 26kg of herbal cannabis between vehicles near the Boucher Road in south Belfast. Two months earlier in the Duncrue estate in north Belfast police halted another drugs transfer - this time involving around 45kg of herbal cannabis - linked to the same trafficking operation.
Of the five other gang members, Aiden Joseph McPartland, 32, from Deramore Gardens, Belfast, and Mark Mulholland, 27, of Colonsay Park, Ballymena, were described by the judge as "corporals" in the command structure. They received 22 months and 24 months respectively. Again only half the sentences are custodial.
Continuing his use of military ranks to characterise the gang, the judge said Warren Martin, 38, of Windsor Terrace, Coagh, Cookstown, and James Turley, 53, of Ballymore Road, Tandragee, were "privates" in the operation. Mr McFarland gave them 13 months and 15 months respectively, with half of the terms being custodial.
Anthony McStravick, 33, from Ailesbury Road, Belfast, who was said by the judge to have played a "minor role", was given 10 months. He will be eligible for remission.