East Belfast UVF gang ‘dealing in drugs’

Police during last week's raids in east Belfast
Police during last week's raids in east Belfast

A UVF crime gang is allegedly linked to the “wholesale” distribution of drugs across parts of Belfast and north Down, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors claimed nine men are involved in an illicit supply targeted by police who seized up to £15,000 worth of cocaine in raids last week.

Details emerged as bail was granted to 29-year-old Darren Baine on a charge of being concerned in supply of the class A drug.

Co-defendant Andrew Crawford, 27, who is accused of the same offence, was ordered to remain in custody.

Baine, from Cheviot Avenue in Belfast, and Crawford, of Cairndore Grange in Newtownards, were arrested with other suspects last Friday as part of a PSNI operation.

A Crown lawyer said: “Police believe they are all connected to a drug dealing crime gang, east Belfast UVF.”

Suspected cocaine with a street value of between £10,000-£15,000, paramilitary-style flags and drug-dealing paraphernalia was discovered at Crawford’s home, the court heard.

According to the prosecutor phone messages connect him to another man “who acted as a drugs wholesaler across east Belfast and Newtownards”.

She claimed Baine is linked through his name appearing among the contacts on that man’s mobile.

During the hearing Judge Stephen Fowler QC was told “large amounts of unexplained wealth” were found at the home of another accused not before the court.

Three Rolex watches valued at £20,000 were said to have been seized from that property.

Baine’s barrister, Richard McConkey, argued that the prosecution had presented a weak case against his client, based on his name featuring on a co-accused’s phone.

His home was searched and there was nothing found linking him to drugs or any association with any proscribed organisation whatsoever, Mr McConkey stressed.

Counsel for Crawford insisted no large sums of cash or trappings of wealth were found at his home.

Stressing that he has not been charged with any paramilitary activity, Mark Farrell added: “The prosecution are not supplying intelligence to suggest my client is some sort of terrorist godfather.”

Refusing bail to Crawford, Judge Fowler cited the risk of further offences based on the consignment of drugs seized.

However, he ruled that Baine can be released from custody on conditions including a ban on using mobile phones, curfew and electronic monitoring.