Surveillance recorded ‘South East Antrim UDA drugs conversation’, court is told

A surveillance operation targeting the South East Antrim UDA recorded suspects in alleged conversation about the supply of drugs, a court heard.

Thursday, 25th March 2021, 3:56 pm
Police carried out raids in Carrickfergus this week

Prosecutors claimed they also instructed a network of contacts to keep them updated about police searches which resulted in a major cocaine seizure.

Details emerged as four Carrickfergus men were remanded in custody accused of involvement in the plot.

A judge was told that one of the defendants is believed to be the UDA commander in the area.

Clifford Irons, 43, of Shannagh Avenue; Daniel Vance, 33, from Glenkeen Drive; Glenn Burns, 38, of Moyard Gardens; and David Weir, 38, from Rossmore Green are charged with conspiring to supply a Class A drug.

They were arrested on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the seizure of 1.2 kilos of cocaine in Greenisland, Co Antrim last November.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard the PSNI and National Crime Agency probe was directed at activities of the South East Antrim UDA.

A Crown lawyer revealed the case involves audio recordings from inside a Ford Kuga and direct observations of the defendants.

Police surveillance allegedly identified Burns driving the car, with Irons assessed as being a front seat passenger based on a partial recognition.

David Weir also got into the vehicle during conversations about the supply of drugs, it was claimed.

According to prosecution counsel Burns made a phone call to tell someone else to collect and deliver suspected narcotics.

“There’s concern about police activity and the use of sniffer dogs to search the area,” he said.

Code words and guarded language was allegedly used during conversations.

Deputy District Judge Liam McStay was told the searches recovered cocaine from two other parked cars and hedges at nearby waste ground.

During the operation the men in the Kuga were asking others to send them pictures of the ongoing police searches, it was contended.

“They discussed removing an item from a particular location, and there were a series of calls asking those people to keep them updated about what police are doing,” the prosecutor said.

“The evidence shows as well as these people brought before the court there was a whole network of other individuals in contact with them during these searches, telling them what police are doing and assisting them in destroying and concealing evidence.”

Instructions were also allegedly given to destroy evidence and mobile phones.

Opposing bail, the prosecutor claimed: “Clifford Irons is assessed as being the commander of the South East Antrim UDA.”

The three co-accused are also all suspected of being senior or important figures within the organisation and crime grouping, the court was told.

Defence lawyers stressed that none of the accused is charged with paramilitary membership.

Counsel for Irons, Paul Bacon, argued that the prosecution had “tainted” the case, using a “sensationalist headline” to claim his client is a UDA commander,

“There is absolutely no evidence he is involved in a paramilitary group,” Mr Bacon insisted.

Barristers representing Burns and Weir also challenged the Crown assertions about an alleged UDA link.

However, Mr McStay refused bail to all three men and remanded them in custody along with Vance, who did not seek release at this stage.

Citing the risk of interference with the police investigation, he said: “There’s a clear prima facie case they involved themselves in a serious criminal enterprise.”