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Sunday Life

Carrick UDA cannabis factory inside derelict pub busted by police

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By Sunday Life reporter

A convicted drug dealer has been linked to a massive cannabis factory discovered by cops inside a disused pub.

A property connected to Philip 'Cookie' McGookin was raided by the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce (PCT) following the chance discovery of £90,000 worth of grass plants at the Favourite bar in Carrickfergus.

The PSNI accused the South East Antrim UDA of being behind the drug producing operation.

Although not a member McGookin (40) has ties to the terror gang through his brother-in-law Clifford 'Trigger' Irons who is its Carrickfergus commander.

A short time after the cannabis factory was discovered, a house he frequents on the Birches was searched by police.

Sunday Life has also learned that the find by the PCT was down to a huge slice of luck.

A UDA source revealed: "The Favourite bar was closed down earlier this year and has been lying empty for a couple of months.

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"Seeing an opportunity the UDA broke in, changed the locks and started using it as a cannabis factory."

But the major drug producing operation was busted when punters in the bookmakers shop next door heard noises.

"They thought someone had broken into the Favourite and was planning to rob the bookies after closing time by getting access through the roof space," our UDA insider added.

"When police officers broke through the door they found the cannabis factory."

There is no suggestion the owner of the Favourite bar on Irish Quarter Street had any idea his premises were being used to grow drugs. Locals say he was stunned when the discovery was made.

It was after this that a property linked to McGookin was raided by officers from the PCT. In January of this year renegade South East Antrim UDA members fired a shot through the front window of the house as a warning to him to settle a debt.

Loyalists suspect that was when the self-confessed drug dealer got involved in the cannabis factory plot to pay off these cash demands.

In 2015 McGookin was jailed for 10 months for possessing cocaine and cannabis with intent to supply. He showed up in court for sentencing wearing a huge pair of oversized sunglasses to hide two black eyes suffered during a UDA beating.

Although the discovery of its £90,000 cannabis factory inside the Favourite bar inflicted a financial blow on the gang, it will have little impact on its drug dealing activities.

Detective Chief Superintendent Rachel Shields, who led the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce operation, said: "The substantial number of cannabis plants seized demonstrates that members of South East Antrim UDA are steeped in drugs criminality.

"Ironically and hypocritically, the same people involved in the supply of cannabis and other drugs within the Carrickfergus community, are the very people carrying out paramilitary-style attacks on drugs dealers within the area."

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