Undercover police observed 17 people waiting at a train station underpass in north Belfast to be supplied with heroin, a court heard on Wednesday.
Belfast Crown Court also heard that in the last decade, the number of heroin-related deaths in Northern Ireland has doubled.
According to the most recent report which was published last December by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, an average of 10 people died from heroin and morphine-related deaths between 2006 to 2010, compared to an average of 21 and a half between 2011 and 2016.
These statistics emerged as Lithuanian man Ligitas Grigalaitis was handed a 21-month sentence for being concerned in the supply of heroin in Belfast over a two-month period last year.
The 23-year old - who at the time of his arrest was of no fixed abode - later confessed to being ‘a salesman’ in the drugs operation.
He was told by Judge Gordon Kerr QC that he will spend half his sentence in prison, with the remainder on licence when he is released from jail.
Prosecution barrister Robin Steer told the court that Grigalaitis was part of a group known as ‘The Russians’ who supplied heroin at various locations in Belfast, including Ormeau Park, and that on five separate occasions between February and April last year, his involvement in the operation was noted by undercover officers.
Mr Steer revealed that on one of these occasions - on April 11, 2017 - a total of 17 people were waiting at the underpass at Yorkgate train station to be supplied with heroin. On that day, Grigalaitis “was seen holding a large bundle of cash.”
The prosecutor said the drugs sold in this operation were individual wraps worth £25 each. Quoting the heroin-related statistics, Mr Steer added “deaths from heroin in this country have doubled.”
Defence barrister Sean Mullan said there was “no getting away” from the seriousness of the charge faced by Grigalaitis, but said there were “others involved” in the operation which his client was “fearful of naming.”
Telling Judge Kerr that Grigalaitis’s role was to “handle notes and count the money”, Mr Mullan pointed out his client “didn’t physically supply” the heroin, but was nonetheless part of the operation.
The barrister also revealed that Grigalaitis initially came to Northern Ireland to work, but he “fell in with the wrong crowd” which led to his offending.
Judge Kerr handed Grigalaitis a 21-month sentence and warned that anyone who involved themselves with supplying a Class A drug could expect to go to prison.