Northern Ireland news

Councillor claims he challenged police over drug dealers

How the Irish News revealed the explosive claims
Connla Young

A Co Derry councillor has claimed he challenged police over failures to tackle drug peddlers years before intelligence officers claimed that colleagues may be working for a man they believe is a major dealer.

Russell Watton was speaking after The Irish News revealed that two PSNI C3 Intelligence Branch officers were secretly recorded trying to recruit a man allegedly involved in the drugs trade as an informer.

During the exchange an officer claimed that an alleged major dealer may have connections to police.

It is believed that the subject of the recruitment attempt met the officers in the Portrush area in March.

One policeman was recorded telling him they know he is a drug dealer and he will be protected if he works for them.

He was also told he could be paid as much as £15,000 for information about the suspected major dealer and the finger of blame could be pointed at another person.

Solicitor Ciarán Shiels, acting for the man who police claimed is a major drug dealer, said his client has never been charged with drug offences and confirmed he has lodged a complaint with the Police Ombudsman.

Through his solicitor the man also denied the claims made by the two special branch officers, branding them “far-fetched”.

“It's nonsense that has been put in the intelligence system about me - that is them exaggerating my position to try and recruit (the potential informer) against me,” he said.

Mr Watton, a PUP councillor in Coleraine, said he raised concerns about drug dealers with senior officers during a meeting three years ago.

“This is no big surprise to me. I have been putting these accusations to them – how the (drug dealers) are getting away with it,” he said.

“I have given them (PSNI) as much information that would have arrested 30 men and I may as well not have bothered.

“They are not touching the big boys because they are working for them.”

Mr Watton denied that loyalist paramilitary organisations are 'taxing' drug dealers in the wider Coleraine area to allow them operate, saying some groups had threatened to shoot potential heroin dealers in the past.

Responding to the claims, PSNI Superintendent Jeremy Lindsay said that "tackling the drugs issue has always remained a priority in Causeway Coast and Glens" and seizures are up this year.

"We take every opportunity we can to disrupt the sale and supply of illegal drugs in our district from street level dealing to working with our colleagues in Crime Operations to target the individuals and gangs who are supplying these dangerous substances in our communities," he said.

“Over the last number of months we have put in place planned operations focusing on dealing at bars and nightclubs in the district and just recently at the weekend we recovered a large quantity of cannabis in a car in the Portrush area and on making further enquiries made one arrest.

"This is just a snapshot of the work we are doing in partnership with the community to tackle this issue.

“I am more than happy to sit down with any of our elected representatives or community workers to outline the work we are doing and get feedback from them on how we can continue to get information from the community to allow us to put dealers before the courts and take drugs out of circulation.”

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