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Officers seize record £12m of cannabis in 'major blow' for NI organised crime gang

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The drugs seized in a joint operation between the NCA and PSNI

The drugs seized in a joint operation between the NCA and PSNI

The drugs seized in a joint operation between the NCA and PSNI

Justice Minister Naomi Long has praised an investigation that resulted in the biggest ever drug seizure by the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Northern Ireland.

A joint operation with the PSNI recovered around 600kg of herbal cannabis in Templepatrick with an estimated street value of £10m to £12m.

Three men were arrested when a lorry carrying the drugs, which were concealed under vegetables, was intercepted in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The suspects, aged 62, 37 and 32, from counties Tyrone, Londonderry and Armagh, remained in custody last night on suspicion of conspiring to import drugs.

A spokesperson for the NCA later confirmed the lorry had arrived in Northern Ireland on a ferry to Larne.

Two premises were also searched in Co Londonderry and in Co Tyrone.

Ms Long said the operation sent a clear message to those "intent on destroying communities".

"Drugs bring nothing but misery and those who line their pockets off the back of that misery simply do not care about the destruction and harm they are causing to young and vulnerable people within their own communities," she added.

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The drugs seized in a joint operation between the NCA and PSNI

The drugs seized in a joint operation between the NCA and PSNI

The drugs seized in a joint operation between the NCA and PSNI

Ms Long said the seizure also represented "a huge disruption" to profiteering gangs.

"The NCA-led investigation into drug supply is continuing and I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard and so diligently to achieve this result," she explained.

"That investigation goes on and by working together in this way we will continue to pursue those involved in drug dealing and bring them before the courts."

Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers said: "At least one organised crime gang has been dealt a major blow and sustained a significant financial hit and that is good news.

"The role of the NCA should be noted and applauded because they have the organisational capacity to operate UK-wide.

"Clearly their input into this operation has been crucial, tracking the lorry as it travelled through Great Britain and onward to Larne.

"This shows the kind of results that can be achieved with law enforcement agencies sharing information and intelligence and it bodes well for the future."

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NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham

NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham

NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham

NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham called it "an incredibly significant seizure".

"A seizure of this size will have a huge impact on the organised crime groups involved in its importation, depriving them of commodity and, most importantly, profit," he said.

"We are determined to do all we can with our law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle drug supply routes, not only here in Northern Ireland but across the UK. The crime groups involved bring violence and exploitation to our streets.

"Our investigation into this seizure continues and I'd like to thank our colleagues at PSNI for their support."

Detective Chief Inspector Brian Foster, from the PSNI's Organised Crime Unit, said: "This successful operation demonstrates the significant benefits of joint working with law enforcement partners. We will continue to work closely with NCA to disrupt the nefarious activities of organised crime groups operating in Northern Ireland."

Anyone with information about to drugs should contact the PSNI on 101 or to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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The lorry seized by the National Crime Agency and the PSNI

The lorry seized by the National Crime Agency and the PSNI

The lorry seized by the National Crime Agency and the PSNI

Belfast Telegraph