By Jonathan McCambridge
02 June 2006
Police were last night questioning 14 people following a massive operation to smash the heroin trade in Ulster.
Over 120 officers took part in Operation Sturge, concentrated in Ballymena, and one of the biggest anti-drugs offensives in the province for years.
Twelve men and two women were arrested following a series of raids in which quantities of Class A and Class C drugs as well as cash were seized.
As well as 10 homes in Ballymena, police also searched properties in Sion Mills, Co Tyrone, and Kilrea, Co Londonderry.
However, Ballymena is regarded as the capital of Northern Ireland's heroin trade. Three people there have died of overdoses in the past year, police revealed.
Police later raided another five properties in the town.
Detective Inspector Mark Dennison said: "The supply market within Ballymena will dry up because of what's happened today. This will have a significant impact."
Amid dramatic scenes battering rams were used to break down the doors of houses by Tactical Support Group officers as part of the operation.
DI Dennison said evidence had been built up between January and March.
"Our job is to catch more of them, convict more of them and to treat more of them. It should be noted that Ballymena police have convicted almost 60 people in the last three years for supply of Class A drugs.
"As a result of the arrests today that figure could rise significantly. The operation today is not only about enforcement. Ballymena PSNI work with a range of statutory and voluntary agencies in the district."