PSNI chief pledges ‘thorough’ inquiry into drug deaths

First Minister Peter Robinson says it is ‘well known’ who is selling drugs in east Belfast

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has said  a “thorough investigation” into whether eight unexplained deaths in Northern Ireland in recent weeks were due to people taking contaminated drugs is being carried out. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has said a “thorough investigation” into whether eight unexplained deaths in Northern Ireland in recent weeks were due to people taking contaminated drugs is being carried out. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

 

Police are carrying out a “thorough investigation” to try to establish if eight “unexplained” deaths in Northern Ireland in recent weeks were as a result of people taking contaminated drugs, the PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott has stated.

Mr Baggott gave his assurance as First Minister Peter Robinson implied that loyalist paramilitaries may have been involved in the sale of the suspected impure drugs.

Police are investigating the deaths of eight people, seven from the greater Belfast area and with most of these fatalities in east Belfast. They are also investigating the death of a mother-of-two from Coleraine in Co Derry. The people who died are aged in their 20s and 30s, according to the police.

The PSNI is still waiting on toxicology reports to determine if a suspected contaminated batch of ecstasy-type drugs were responsible for the deaths. They have warned the public against taking “green coloured tablets with a logo of a crown or castle on them”.

The North’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride has also warned that the deaths could be related to the use of paramethoxyamphetamine (PMA), a class A drug, which is similar to ecstasy.

Mr Robinson did not directly name the Ulster Defence Association or the Ulster Volunteer Force as possibly having supplied the drugs but said, “It is well known who is selling drugs in east Belfast.”

He called on the police to take action. “It must be a massive concern to people, particularly parents in east Belfast and beyond, that this kind of thing can happen,” said the DUP leader, who is also an Assembly member for East Belfast.

“It is well-known the outlets for the sale of drugs and I think the police have to act,” he added.

Mr Baggott said that “no matter what the outcome of the forensic analysis shows, the PSNI is committed to tackling the scourge of drugs and we are taking robust measures to protect communities”.

“While it would be premature to draw connections between these tragic deaths, a thorough investigation is being carried out and we will await the results of the forensic tests,” he added.

Mr Baggott said he needed assistance from the public and politicians to clamp down on drug dealing. “Over the next few weeks, we want to keep our efforts focussed on tackling drugs. I would look to politicians and community leaders to help us ensure policing resources are not distracted dealing with unnecessary disorder on our streets,” he added.

The DUP health Minister Edwin Poots said seized alcohol was also being tested as part of the investigation. “We have no evidence to suggest that any of these people have taken drugs but there are eight unexplained deaths and five of them in one area and there is an indication that that might be the case,” he said.

“It could well be that someone has had their drinks spiked with drugs and we need to be careful about that,” added Mr Poots.

The Minister implicitly also adverted to a paramilitary or criminal connection to the deaths. Mr Poots warned “bad people” supplying drugs were being shielded by others who claimed to be protecting their communities. “People need to look at themselves, to reflect on that. We don’t need drugs in our communities and people who are engaging in supplying drugs to our communities don’t belong to our communities,” he added.

Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party which is linked to the UVF, said the UVF did not sell drugs but that there may be members of the organisation who were engaged in such criminality. If people were dealing drugs the police should arrest them and put them in prison, he added.