Op Meris Sentencing
Police say the sentencing of a prominent drugs dealer and his associates in Derry today is proof that the criminal justice system is the only effective way of dealing with crime.
Declan Gallagher (34) who is from Derry but was forced to flee to Manchester by vigilantes was sentenced to 9 years after he admitted seven charges including trafficking cannabis and cocaine worth more than £2 million into Northern Ireland. A total of 10 other charges were left hanging over him, if he breaks the law again.
A further 11 co-defendants were sentenced to a total of 31.5 years after they pleaded guilty to a series of charges linked to police seizures of drugs between September 2013 and August 2014 in Belfast, Antrim, Hillsborough, Larne and two in Londonderry.
Gallagher, originally from the Creggan in Derry, had been shot by vigilantes in 2008 at his home in Donegal. He relocated to Bury, Manchester, from where he continued to supply illegal drugs into Northern Ireland.
The officer who led the proactive investigation, Detective Inspector Tom McClure from Reactive and Organised Crime Branch, said: “Gallagher was the leader of an organised crime group operating in Northern Ireland. A gang of criminal vigilantes thought the answer to the problem he posed was to murder him.
“This was wrong from every perspective – moral and legal. Furthermore, it did not solve anything. Instead, it made the problem worse as Gallagher fled to Manchester from where he continued to supply drugs into Northern Ireland - only on a grander scale thanks to newly acquired contacts in England.”
Police made six seizures of cocaine and cannabis between September 2013 and August 2014 which resulted in more than £2.2 million worth of illegal drugs being removed from circulation and nine individuals being sentenced by courts after a series of separate trials. Today’s sentencing brings the total number of people sentenced for involvement in this drugs activity to date to 20 (one has been before the courts twice).
DI McClure said: “Police have conducted a detailed, proactive investigation which has resulted in the conviction of 20 defendants to date, including the principal of this organised crime group Declan Gallagher. Two of the seizures were made in Derry and there was a strong Derry link to this criminal activity. But it was not confined to the north-west. Seizures were also made in Antrim, Belfast, Larne and Hillsborough.
“Gallagher believed he was controlling this criminality from what he thought was a safe distance, not getting his hands dirty. But he was wrong. Detectives began a covert investigation which used telephone data and surveillance to build a strong circumstantial case against him which resulted in his guilty pleas.
“The criminal justice system is the only proper and effective way to deal with serious criminality of this type and I would like to thank our colleagues in Greater Manchester Police, Police Scotland, and those in the National Crime Agency for their assistance. We would encourage people to tell us about their suspicions and we will act on any information which provides us with a lead.”
The six seizures were:
- £618,200 cannabis at Seven Mile Straight, Antrim on 19 September 2013
- £944,820 cocaine on Westlink, Belfast, on 5 December, 2013
- £372,000 cocaine at Hillsborough on 22 May, 2014
- £125,000 cocaine and cannabis at Beechwood Crescent, Londonderry on 13 June, 2014
- £7,200 cocaine at Tranarossan Avenue, Derry on 7 August, 2014
- £180,000 cannabis at Larne on 28 August, 2014.
Police believe forty-four year old Declan Palmer, originally from Derry, was acting as a trusted lieutenant for Gallagher. Extensive evidence was obtained demonstrating his involvement in five of the six drugs consignments resulting in him pleading guilty to a number of offences including aiding and abetting possession of Class A and Class B drugs with intent to supply. For this he received a 7 year prison sentence.
Police believe that 44 year old North Belfast man Phillip Colville was a senior member of this criminal network working closely with Declan Gallagher to supply large quantities of controlled drugs into Northern Ireland.
Colville believed he was controlling the Belfast end of this operation from a safe distance, not getting his hands dirty however a police surveillance operation and analysis of mobile phone records resulted in him pleading guilty to being concerned in the supply of a consignment of herbal cannabis worth £618,200 seized on 19/09/13 in the Seven Mile Straight area of Antrim. He was sentenced to 3 years.
We also believe that 32 year old Londonderry man Raymond Hamilton was a significant member of this organised criminal network who was working closely with Declan Gallagher and others to commit serious drugs criminality.
Hamilton mistakenly believed he was doing this from a safe distance by using a number of unregistered mobile phones to coordinate the supply of drugs into Northern Ireland with Declan Gallagher in England and a drugs courier in Northern Ireland. Despite Hamilton’s best efforts to evade detection a strong circumstantial case was presented to the Crown Court which resulted in him pleading guilty to being concerned in the supply of £125,000 of cannabis and cocaine seized by police following a surveillance operation at Beechwood Crescent Derry on 13/06/14. He was also sentenced to 3 years.