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Top police officer pulls out of drugs conference

A senior PSNI officer was forced to withdraw from a major drug conference today due to the increased threat from dissident republicans.

Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris of the PSNI’s crime operations department was forced to pull out of the conference he was due to address in Belfast today on the fight against drug dealers.

Just before day two of the conference at the Europa Hotel, organised by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, got under way organiser Tim Hollis announced: “There is a heightened security threat for colleagues from the PSNI. Drew Harris has had to attend to that. Some of the threats from the past still remain.”

It was made clear that the threat was not specifically against Mr Harris or the conference

Meanwhile the conference was told that Ireland is being used as an important staging post for drugs arriving into the UK and Europe.

A senior PSNI officer said seizures of cocaine and cannabis north and south of the border are recent examples of the problem.

Thousands of confiscations worth £17.9m have been made in Northern Ireland during the first six months of this financial year and 14 people were convicted in the last two months as the result of a PSNI operation aimed at stamping out illegal drugs, the conference heard today.

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Detective Superintendent Garry Clarke, who is head of the PSNI’s drug squad, highlighted recent success in the fight against drugs in Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the conference, entitled High Society? Enforcing the Rules, DS Clarke said: “In the past two months, the PSNI has secured the convictions of 14 people spanning six crime gangs. To date, seven have been sentenced and have received a total of 35 years in prison.”

However, he said that drug seizures on their own are not enough to tackle the problem of drug abuse.

“The police cannot solve the drug problem in isolation. We need to work with others to reduce the demand for drugs,” he said.

“Police need to remain focused on the individuals who are committing the crimes as opposed to the crimes themselves,” he explained.

“This is a more challenging objective for police but it is not impossible. We have stringent targets set by the Northern Ireland Policing Board to dismantle crime gangs. Dismantling means arresting senior members of the gang, making significant drug seizures and taking the gang's money.

“We are working to meet these targets but it is not just about enforcement. The police cannot solve the drug problem in isolation. We need to work with others to reduce the demand for drugs.”

In the past week, police have seized cocaine worth £300,000 in separate operations in Belfast and Ballymena and announced details of more than £15m worth of cannabis seized.

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