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‘Year-long operation led to £2m drugs raid’

Police mounted a year-long surveillance operation before seizing drugs valued at £2m, a court in Belfast has heard.

Detectives also revealed that more than 50 mobile phones have been confiscated for analysis as part of the probe into a suspected crime gang.

Details emerged as seven men were remanded in custody yesterday charged with offences connected with an alleged conspiracy to supply drugs.

An eighth accused, a final-year university student, was granted bail after his father offered sureties worth £100,000 in total.

They appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court following the recovery of cocaine, speed and herbal cannabis at the weekend.

Around £100,000 in cash was also seized following an operation involving police forces and crimefighting agencies on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The drugs were found during searches at properties in Belfast, Kilkeel, Co Down, and Preston, Lancashire.

Those appearing on a number of charges included: Liam Young (32) and Barry Kavanagh (29), both of no fixed address; Gary Stevenson (28), of The Hawthorns, Annalong; and Richard Noble, (26), of Mirabel Street, Manchester.

They were joined in the dock by Christopher McNally (25), from Leesands Close, Preston; Keith Laffin (27), of Ballyveaghmore Road, Ballymartin, Newry; Francis Christie (37), of Hollybrook Grove, Newtownabbey, and Steve Mesquita, a 27-year-old Dutch national of no fixed address.

The court was told Christie faces a single charge of possessing class B drugs, namely amphetamines. As well as the conspiracy to supply charges, Laffin is alleged to have had around €80,000 in criminal property.

Seven of the accused made no applications for bail and were remanded in custody to appear again via video link next month.

Noble, who is studying photography at Bolton University, was granted bail but ordered to stay at his parents house in Bangor, Co Down.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall ordered him to surrender his passport and directed that his father lodge £50,000 in cash and put up another £50,000 surety as part of the release conditions.

During his application a detective sergeant, who said he could connect all eight accused to the charges, claimed there was surveillance evidence to link Noble to the drugs operation.

He said: “It is an investigation that has spanned around 12 months to date, a major operation into organised crime and into an organised crime gang.”

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