Northern Ireland

Taking the fight against drugs in NI right to dealers door

How best to fight the war against drugs - try to catch the elusive Mr Bigs or try to disrupt and destroy the sprawling network of dealers selling directly on our streets?

The answer, of course, has to be both, but - for the past few weeks - the police in Northern Ireland have been piling the pressure onto street level dealers.

The PSNI's Operation Torus been running since August and in just a few weeks, it has seen more than 1,100 searches of people and properties and almost 200 arrests.

BBC Northern Ireland district journalist, Gordon Adair, joined one group of officers taking the fight - literally - to the dealers' doors.

Image caption Officers from Operation Torus search gardens in a residential estate for hidden drugs

As he scrambles back to his feet, the uniformed officer counts out the deals. "One, two … let me see … eight; eight altogether Sarge".

Each deal is a small block of cannabis resin, wrapped in silver foil. They were hidden under a hedge in the garden of a terraced house in the Enniskeen estate in Craigavon. Each is worth about £20.

A short distance away a small bag of herbal cannabis and, in another hedge, a balaclava is found.

'Scared'

"We see this all the time," a detective tells me. "The dealers hide drugs in the gardens of nearby houses, not their own, so that they can't be linked with them.

"The people in those houses are often pensioners, often living on their own, and they're terrified. They see these people dealing drugs quite openly from their gardens, but they're just too scared to say anything. That's what this operation's all about; helping people like that. This is where people in the community are telling us they want to see action."

And there has been action. Operation Torus has been running for less than a month, but already it has clocked up 1,142 searches, £287,000 worth of drug seizures and 198 arrests.

"It should always be difficult," says PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, "for those who involve themselves in organised crime - which includes, obviously, drugs - to operate in our society. We have a whole raft of measures, a whole array of things that we can do to break down the illegal business of drug dealing, and we should be optimistic of what we can do to constrain it and reduce the risk of serious harm to people."

Image caption Police have arrested almost 200 people since the operation began.

Operation Torus is happening right across Northern Ireland. On the same day, I saw the police recover drugs in Craigavon, I watched as they used a battering ram to force a "rapid entry" into two houses belonging to suspected dealers in Newry.

'Worry'

ACC Harris rejected any suggestion that hitting the street-level drug dealers like this is not an effective way to tackle the problem. "We know from public feedback that this is what people worry about," he says, "dealing that they see - in their area. And we very much put this operation together to tackle that and to clamp down on it.

"We have been successful against major drug trafficking operations and have seized £11m pounds' worth of drugs since 1 April, but now we really want to focus in on what people worry about which is the drug dealing in their area. And this is right across Northern Ireland, it involves all the operational departments and we've dedicated a lot of resources to this already."

Up until this point, Operation Torus has been driven by the PSNI's own intelligence sources. Now, however, they want the public to step up and do their bit by giving them new information to act on.

"Now we want to ask for the public's help," says ACC Harris. "What do they know? Whether they're able to tell the police or tell Crimestoppers in confidence, we will act on that; we've set aside resources to do that."

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