Northern Ireland

Operation Meris: Cocaine and cannabis smugglers sentenced

Declan Gallagher
Image caption Declan Gallagher, 34, is originally from Derry but had been living in greater Manchester

A gang that smuggled £2m of cocaine and cannabis into Northern Ireland has been sentenced.

Eleven men and one woman from Northern Ireland and Manchester admitted a role in the drugs smuggling.

They were arrested following six drugs seizures between September 2013 and August 2014.

Sentencing at Londonderry crown court, Judge Philip Babington said each defendant "played their own important role".

Judge Babington described Declan Gallagher, 34 - originally from Derry but who had been living in greater Manchester - as the "organiser and director of the entire criminal enterprise".

He pleaded guilty to seven separate charges and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Image caption The gang was sentenced at the Londonderry crown court on Thursday

A PSNI officer said Gallagher had fled to Manchester after he was shot by dissident republicans at his home in St Johnston, County Donegal, in 2008.

He also escaped injury in a pipe bomb attack and his Donegal home was destroyed in a separate arson attack, the court heard.

Trusted lieutenant

Judge Babington said the 12 defendants might not have known each other, but all were known to Gallagher and that they acted at his behest.

He said the PSNI's Operation Meris had made seizures in Antrim, Larne, Belfast, Dromore and twice in Derry.

The court heard the operation involved extensive undercover surveillance, CCTV and mobile phone triage after meetings of the drugs gang in Manchester and Lisburn in March 2014.

Declan Palmer, 44, who was involved in five of the six drug seizure, was sentenced to seven years.

Judge Babington described him as Declan Gallagher's "trusted lieutenant" and said he was heavily involved in the planning and organising of the drugs shipments from Manchester to Northern Ireland.

A three-year jail sentence was handed down to 25-year old Benjamin Harding.

Raymond Hamilton, 32, Phillip Colville, 44, Ryan Radcliffe, 26, Edward Cameron, 56, Michael Rainey, 50 and Scott Sotheron, 42, were all also jailed for three years.

Three further defendants received suspended sentences.

Louise Gallagher, 46, a sister of Declan Gallagher, received a 12-month sentence suspended for three years.

Her 45-year old brother Peter Gallagher was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for 3 years.

Patrick Ward, 50, received a 12-month sentence suspended for three years.

Detective Inspector Tom McClure said this was a major PSNI success against a criminal gang involved in the drugs trade and the court had sent out a strong deterrent message.