Belfast Telegraph

War on Northern Ireland drug dealers: 1,053 searches, £300,293 worth of drugs seized, 309 people arrested... the remarkable results of police's fightback after just two weeks

BY AMANDA FERGUSON

The PSNI is waging war on drug dealers across Northern Ireland with more than 300 arrests made in just two weeks.

A huge clampdown on crime gangs has resulted in over 1,000 searches being carried out in the past fortnight, equivalent to more than 70 each day.

In that time, £300,000 worth of illegal drugs have been taken off the streets – with police promising to continue putting the squeeze on dealers in the coming weeks.

The huge operation follows scathing criticism of the PSNI after the unexplained deaths of eight young people earlier this year.

First Minister Peter Robinson was among those who urged police to do more to tackle the scourge of drugs.

Yesterday, police revealed they had relaunched an operation aimed at tackling drug dealing throughout Northern Ireland.

Superintendent Michele Larmour said police were determined to bring those involved in the drugs trade to justice.

"Drugs bring misery to individuals, families and communities," she said.

"We will continue to disrupt and arrest drug dealers involved in the sale and supply of drugs, bring individuals before the courts and work with communities and partner agencies to reduce the threat of harmful and illegal activity."

Between September 23 and October 6, scores of officers have conducted 1,053 searches, including a number in east Belfast, seized £300,293 worth of suspected drugs and arrested 309 people.

The senior officer explained Operation Torus, a Northern Ireland-wide initiative, has been relaunched to great affect, but officers need more information from communities to tackle the scourge of drugs.

Some huge bags of cocaine, a large quantity of the cannabis strain known as skunk, and prescription medicine seized by officers, as part of the ongoing major police operation, were on display at PSNI Knocknagoney yesterday.

Among the so-called legal highs recovered, were packages labelled Pink Panthers, Benzo Fury, Mind Melt and Charly Sheen.

Since the summer, the PSNI has been investigating the sudden deaths of at least eight young people – seven in Belfast and one in Coleraine – that are thought to be drugs related.

Among the fatalities were Sandy Row band member Gareth 'Big Henry' Morrison, and east Belfast men Alan 'Alio' McKenzie and Andy McCann.

Meanwhile, Cathy Gibson, a 29-year-old mother-of-two, took ill after a night out on the north coast in June and died at the Causeway Hospital the next day.

Ms Gibson's family has strongly denied any drugs link to her death.

In response to questions about police resources being used to cover the Woodvale protests in north Belfast – said to be £50,000 a night – Superintendent Larmour commented: "That does take our officers away from the normal routine policing, of which drugs is part."

However, she said, over the coming days and weeks there will be "a number of strands" to the Operation Torus campaign including further raids, plus billboards, Facebook and washroom advertising.

Superintendent Larmour also said drugs "bring misery to individuals, families and communities".

Massive clampdown sparked by spate of tragic deaths

By Chris Kilpatrick

A spate of suspected drugs-related deaths earlier this year put police under huge pressure to react and fight back against the crime gangs dealing death on our streets.

The PSNI has responded with more than 1,000 searches, hundreds of arrests and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of drugs seized.

The police fightback came after eight young people aged in their 20s and 30s died suddenly with the finger of blame pointed in the direction of loyalist paramilitaries.

The community of east Belfast was worst hit with five of those who died hailing from that part of the city, and within days that hurt turned to anger.

Police were widely taunted with the claim that "even the dogs in the streets" knew who was involved in the illicit trade.

First Minister Peter Robinson piled on the pressure.

"It must be a massive concern to people, particularly parents in east Belfast and beyond, that this kind of thing can happen," the East Belfast MLA said.

"It is well-known the outlets for the sale of drugs and I think the police have to act."

The police reaction in recent weeks has been on a massive scale. Between September 23 and October 6 there were 1,053 searches – more than 70 each day.

More than £300,000 worth of drugs was taken off the streets with 309 people arrested.

Ballymena drugs counsellor Billy Morgan said those distributing drugs are "unscrupulous".

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the PUP, which has ties with the UVF, previously admitted individual members of paramilitary organisations may be dealing drugs."

"The UVF do not sell drugs, but there may be members of any paramilitary organisation, including republicans, that do," he said.

A police media campaign urging the public to shop drug dealers to police will take place over the coming fortnight.

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