Northern Ireland

Fifteen arrests in UK and Italy over 'skunk' cannabis

An officer holds open one of the bags of 'skunk' cannabis Image copyright PSNI
Image caption An officer holds open one of the bags of 'skunk' cannabis

Fifteen people have been arrested as part of an international investigation into the supply of 'skunk' cannabis into Northern Ireland.

Officers recovered £800,000 of 'skunk' and cash during searches in Belfast, Greenisland, Bangor, Newtownards and Ballywalter. Six people were arrested.

Eight people have also been arrested in the Prato and Bologna areas of Italy.

On Wednesday evening a 37-year-old man was arrested in England, to be brought to Northern Ireland for questioning.

'Crime gang'

He was detained by police in Birmingham but it is expected that he will to be transferred on Tuesday to be interviewed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Earlier on Wednesday, the PSNI said those arrested were believed to be "significant members" of a crime gang involved in money laundering and drugs trafficking activities.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption The PSNI released photos of what they said was a cannabis factory found in Italy as part of the Italian investigation

The six people arrested in Northern Ireland were four men and two women who were questioned on suspicion of the importation of cannabis and conspiracy to supply cannabis and money laundering.

The two woman, aged 29 and 26, have since been released on police bail pending further inquiries.

'Further searches'

Four men, aged 33, 32, 30 and 29, are still being questioned.

Four further searches have also been carried out on Wednesday evening in the Belfast and Newtownards areas

Ealier, three searches were carried out in the Prato and Bologna areas of Italy.

The PSNI is the lead investigator in the operation, which involved officers from the Italian police and the National Crime Agency.

The officer leading the investigation, Det Insp Andy Dunlop from the PSNI's organised crime branch, said: "We believe we have established the source of a major supply of herbal cannabis trafficked into Northern Ireland.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption A sum of cash was also seized by police during 10 searches in Northern Ireland

"This is a substantial multi-agency international investigation which has involved various investigative tactics and methods - resulting in these searches, seizures and arrests.

'Dangerous'

"We have seized £800,000 of herbal cannabis but our enquiries lead us to believe that much more has already been sent from Italy to Northern Ireland.

"In recent months, officers in organised crime branch and local districts have seized £1.2m worth of herbal cannabis as part of this operation."

The senior officer said it was a "developing investigation".

"We are maintaining close contact with our colleagues in the Italian carabinieri and the National Crime Agency as well as a number of other law enforcement agencies in the UK and Ireland," he added.

Police said the 'skunk' variety of cannabis could be "particularly dangerous" because it could significantly increase a user's likelihood of experiencing a psychotic episode.