Police fighting 100 organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland

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Police are fighting more than 100 organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland, MLAs have heard.

The 138 groups include home-grown paramilitaries plus criminals from abroad who are involved in a wide range of illegal activities such as drug dealing, sexual exploitation and fraud.

Some 67 gangs are under active investigation, and in recent months 28 have been dismantled, with members put in jail, while 96 others have been frustrated or disrupted.

Detective Chief Superintendent Andrea McMullan, from the PSNI, said: “We currently have 138 OCGs (organised crime gangs) mapped, but that (number) goes up and down.

“Sixty seven of those are subject to active organised crime investigations.”

The senior officer was among a number of law enforcement representatives briefing Stormont’s justice committee on the extent and nature of organised crime in the region.

She added: “The majority of OCGs are local groups. One or two are multi-faceted groups working with local groups where you are seeing real high-end frauds perpetrated by local facilitators linked into international OCGs.

“We have a few groups who are non indigenous.”

There is also collaboration between loyalist and republican paramilitaries and foreign criminals, the committee was told.

Ms McMullan said: “There are paramilitary crime gangs who are raising money to fund their paramilitary structure, not for paramilitarism but to put money into their pockets.

“This money is not being raised for a community good.

“In areas such as east Belfast, north Belfast, Strabane - in those areas the paramilitaries are involved as a gang working together as paramilitaries and carrying out criminal activity.”

MLAs were also told of recent successes arising out of the Joint Agency Task Force where information is shared among agencies across the UK and Ireland.

They include:

:: The seizure of 27 kilograms of benzocaine, a cutting agent used with cocaine - two arrests and identification of a significant supplier.

:: Recovery of £2.1 million worth of cocaine and herbal cannabis and arrest of 19 people in the north west.

:: Seizure of £500,000 worth of drugs and eight watches valued at £350,000 in Londonderry.

:: Capture of a crime gang that was using skimming devices to defraud bank users resulting in the jailing of four international crime gang members.

Anthony Harbinson, from the Department of Justice said: “Working together, sharing intelligence and focusing on the objectives is beginning to really pay off.”

Meanwhile, it also emerged that 370,000 litres of illegal fuel has been seized and 12 fuel-laundering plants dismantled during the last year.

Some 59 victims of human trafficking were recovered and £1.6 million of criminal assets were also removed.

Democratic Unionist MLA Paul Frew, who chairs the committee, welcomed the results.

Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney described the briefing as useful.