Source: Sunday Times (UK) Contact: http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/ Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 1998 RISE OF HEROIN ALARMS RUC HEROIN has made inroads into the Northern Ireland drug culture for the first time, according to the head of the RUC drug squad. Superintendent David Thompson said heroin first appeared in the province in significant amounts after the first IRA ceasefire but peaked in the last six months of 1997, writes Phelim McAleer. Although there are believed to be several hundred users, the heroin problem is still minor compared with cities and towns in Britain or Dublin. None the less, the RUC is concerned about escalation. "We have linked crimes such as shoplifting, burglaries and robberies with drug users," said Thompson. Many of the robberies were unsophisticated acts of desperation. "We would have individuals going into shops unmasked where they're known and producing knives demanding money," he said. Heroin usage is concentrated in Ballymena, the buckle of the province's Bible belt where Ian Paisley, the DUP leader, has most support. Thompson said the heroin network emanates from people from Ballymena who left Northern Ireland in the early 1990s to work in England, where they picked up the habit. "They came back after the first ceasefire and had to maintain their supply," he said. "There are now several hundred heroin users in Northern Ireland." The situation in Ballymena has followed a similar pattern to the expansion of heroin in Dublin in the 1980s. Residents in deprived estates have started a backlash against suspected dealers and have picketed their houses. RUC sources are concerned about the protests, fearing that they may spread and be infiltrated by paramilitaries. - --- Checked-by: "Don Beck"