Police have welcomed the jail sentence imposed on a man who is described as a major figure in illegal drugs supply in Coleraine and Ballymena.
Mark Dunford (41), of Ballylagan Lane, Coleraine has already been behind bars for 7 months and today at Dungannon Crown Court was sentenced to an additional 4.5 years, half of which will be spent in custody and the other half on licence after admitting supplying amphetamines.
The court also made a confiscation order of £90,000 or an additional 5 years in jail.
He had been on the run in Spain after failing to turn up for a sentencing hearing in 2015.
Today, his sentencing, along with two other defendants, was the culmination of an intelligence-led, proactive operation by detectives from Reactive and Organised Crime Branch into an organised crime group involved in the supply of large quantities of class A and B drugs in the Ballymena and Coleraine areas.
On 28 September 2012, police stopped cars in Ballymena and Coleraine and searched a Transit van parked in Coleraine. Officers uncovered 20 kilos of amphetamine and 300g of cocaine in the vehicles and 1,100 Ecstasy tablets in the garden of a house in Portglenone. The estimated potential street value of these class A and B drugs is £893,000.
Detectives linked Dunford, who has previous drugs convictions and ran a gym in Coleraine, to the drugs through surveillance of a meeting with other drugs dealers in England and analysis of telephone data.
A co-accused, 42 year old Robert Holmes of Glenone Villas, Portglenone, was previously jailed for 15 months after admitting having amphetamines and Ecstasy with intent to supply. A Serious Crime Prevention Order restricting his activities was also imposed for five years.
A third member of the same organised crime group, Steven McBride of Foundry Court, Coleraine was previously jailed for 15 months after admitting seven drugs offences. In addition to the jail terms, both Holmes and McBride were put on licence for a further 15 months.
Detective Sergeant Gary Moore, from Reactive and Organised Crime Branch, said: “Police built a compelling circumstantial case against Dunford. The evidence obtained showed he was directing drugs supply from what he thought was a safe distance.
He organised a large supply of amphetamine to be brought from England into Northern Ireland. He is linked to this drugs consignment, seized by police on 28 September 2012, by telephone data and the fact that his meeting in England with other drugs dealers was under surveillance by Strathclyde Police supported by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. I want to acknowledge the assistance of Strathclyde Police, now part of Police Scotland, and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, now part of the National Crime Agency in this successful investigation.
“Mark Dunford believed he was untouchable because, in common parlance, he never got his hands dirty. He directed and controlled this criminality from what he believed was a safe distance, using a mobile phone and willing accomplices.
“He was granted bail after he admitted the offences but he did not turn up for sentencing last year and went on the run to Spain. He was arrested in June, with assistance from An Garda Siochana, Spanish police and colleagues in the National Crime Agency, and brought back to Northern Ireland. Dunford thought he was out of reach but he was wrong.
“Our investigation combined effective teamwork with a detailed professional strategy which led to a strong circumstantial case being presented to the court. It was so strong that all three defendants pleaded guilty. The professional analysis and presentation of this evidence was crucial to a successful outcome and my particular thanks are due to the police analyst who worked on this operation.
“Five vehicles belonging to the gang were seized and sold at auction. The money raised was donated to two drugs charities in Derry. A confiscation investigation has started to remove any material benefits derived from this group’s criminality. Those who supply and distribute illegal drugs are a scourge on local communities. We are committed to working with those communities to take those individuals off the streets, put them behind bars and take their criminally-acquired wealth from them. The people of Coleraine and Ballymena are safer today as a result of this operation. I would ask communities to continue to work with us by providing whatever information or suspicions they have to police.”
When the drugs were seized in September 2012 an estimate of £226,000 was placed on their street value based on average purity levels. Following forensic analysis, the amphetamines were found to have much higher purity levels and consequently the potential street value has been revised by a drugs expert witness to be £861,000. The estimated value of cocaine and ecstasy tablets seized brings the total to up to £893,000.