DETECTIVES believe a report of criminal activity in Co. Down that resulted in the arrest of 11 people this week is linked to an ongoing drugs feud between rival gangs.
The arrest of the 11 men, aged between 24 and 56, followed reports that a large group of men had gathered at a house in the Weaver’s Grove area of Newtownards on April 6.
During the incident, threats were allegedly made to a male occupant who was inside the house at the time.
“The Police Service of Northern Ireland does not tolerate any type of vigilante activity and we would caution any individual or group against taking the law into their own hands,” said Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton.
Five people were arrested on Monday, June 5, three more men were detained on Wednesday and a further three arrests followed on Thursday.
The men have been charged with a range of offences, including unlawful assembly and affray.
The PSNI believe the incident on April 6 is linked to an ongoing feud between rival drugs groups across Ards and North Down.
ACC Singleton added that despite proving to be a drain on police resources during a challenging time, the force was determined not to let vigilantes take control of communities.
“These arrests are a powerful reminder that police are responsible for law enforcement in Northern Ireland — we are here to protect local people and we are proud to serve them,” he said.
“Those who engage in vigilante behaviour, whether claiming to represent an illegal paramilitary organisation or not, are usually only interested in asserting their own control and influence over local communities, with no regard for wider community concerns.
“I want to reiterate our message that we urge residents of Newtownards to remain vigilant and to continue reporting any concerns to us so we can take the appropriate action.
“The impact of this criminal behaviour is being felt both in the local community and has wider impact on our service.
“The total cost of the policing operation relating to the North Down feud is £476,000.
“This drain on our resources is coming at a time of stark budgetary pressures with fewer officers.
“Our key priority is to keep our communities in Newtownards and across Northern Ireland safe.”
He added that Local Policing Teams would continue to carry out high-visibility patrols in the area, with Armed Response units and Tactical Support Group officers offering their support.