Gang fears re-echoed as Tyrone cocaine haul is found to be over 90% pure
A huge batch of cocaine seized by police was more than 90% pure - an unprecedented quality reinforcing serious concerns Northern Ireland is now the preferred back door into Britain for major European crime gangs.
Police sources say the quality of the haul recovered in Co Tyrone last week is proof the drugs were not destined for the local market.
Most cocaine sold in Northern Ireland is around 20% pure, having been cut with other substances several times.
The estimated street value of £2.5m at the time of the seizure is just a fraction of what it was actually worth having been forensically tested at Seapark in Carrickfergus.
A Policing Board member told the Belfast Telegraph the drugs were brought into Northern Ireland as European gangs now saw it as "a soft-touch".
PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton yesterday revealed that last year 130 cannabis factories were discovered, with 77 identified so far this year.
There are currently 89 known organised crime gangs involved in drug dealing in Northern Ireland which have links to paramilitary groups.
A further 15 gangs are importing drugs from Europe and further afield.
DUP MLA and Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said: "These figures are quite shocking as they expose the level to which drugs permeate throughout Northern Ireland.
"The figures highlight the need for the PSNI to target the drug trade in Northern Ireland, but the scale of organised criminality involved reinforces once again that police must be assisted in this task by the National Crime Agency. Drug gangs involved in the production, importation and sale of drugs will not limit their activities to just Northern Ireland and therefore the full operation of the NCA locally is absolutely vital."
The National Crime Agency is currently restricted in its operations due to nationalist concerns over the FBI-style body's accountability.
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As well as the Tyrone find, police made a separate seizure of 20kg of the same drug in The Netherlands which was destined for Co Fermanagh. Police were praised for stopping the supply of drugs into Northern Ireland but the finds also sparked fears the region has become a "soft touch" for crime gangs. Last week experts warned a huge spike in the use of cocaine is expected in the run-up to Christmas. Alex Bunting from the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse (FASA) predicted a surge in the use of cocaine in the coming weeks.