THE police chief leading the investigation into the feud between drugs gangs in North Down and Ards has issued fresh assurances that the operation to bring those responsible to justice remains his top priority.
Area Commander for Ards and North Down, Superintendent Johnston McDowell yesterday said that as investigations continue, 16 people have been arrested and eight have been charged with a variety of offences.
He said officers are continuing to provide a visible policing presence across Ards and North Down, following the feuding between the rival gangs.
Although nearly all the people linked to a group calling itself the ‘Real UFF’ are understood to have left the borough, Mr McDowell said police will continue to prioritise the ongoing investigation.
“To date, there have been 16 arrests with eight men charged for a number of offences,” he said. “We have conducted a number of operations and searches across the district.”
One of those arrested was a 45 year-old man, who was detained under the Terrorism Act following a search of property in Newtownards by detectives from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force.
The man has been released following questioning and the investigation continues.
The police chief continued: “The vast majority of people in Ards and North Down want to live in peace and have showed complete revulsion for the actions of a minority of individuals.”
And he stressed: “I want to reassure the community that we are continuing to prioritise this ongoing investigation and working to bring perpetrators to justice.”
As the police operation carries on, the lives of the local community continue to be disrupted by the criminal activity.
An estimated 30 families are understood to have had to move out of the area since the trouble began on March 22.
Police also confirmed that the Paramilitary Crime Task Force has conducted a number searches at local properties linked to the feud.
On Thursday, April 6, police searched a house at the Weavers Grange area Newtownards, when a number of items were removed.
Detective Inspector Eamon Corrigan said officers seized a quantity of suspected class A controlled drugs that will now be subject to further forensic examination.
“A second search on Friday evening was conducted in nearby wasteland within the Weavers Grange area. During this search, detectives located and seized a number of suspected petrol bombs,” he said.
He also issued a message of reassurance to the local community following the incidents.
Strangford MP, Jim Shannon, has thanked the PSNI for its ‘quick action’ in dealing with the evolving situation.
Commenting on a security alert on Monday, when residents of Weavers Grange had to leave their houses for a time, he said: “Whilst things appear to have somewhat settled I am still asking that people work with the police to ensure that there is safety within our communities.
“It is essential that the PSNI have all of the information possible and they can continue to keep the streets safe and the only way that we can do this is to work together to have peace on our streets,” he said.
He urged the local community to provide the police with whatever assistance they could.
“Support for the PSNI at this time as they seek to continue their investigative work is essential and we all have a part to play in ensuring that those responsible for the unrest face charges for their actions.”
Police continue to appeal to anyone with any information in relation to the ongoing feud between drug gangs in the area, to contact police on 101.
Information can also be provided to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.