HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ulster Drug Gangs Occupy Centre Stage In Edinburgh
Pubdate: Sun, 28 Jul 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Stephen Khan


Preparing for the annual extravaganza that draws performers and arts lovers 
from around the world, Edinburgh has also attracted less welcome visitors 
this summer. Drug-dealing Ulster paramilitaries have moved into the city - 
and they are not there to check out what is on at the Playhouse or the 
Usher Hall.

In August, it is said, north London decamps to the Scottish capital. This 
year it has been joined by west Belfast. At least two senior members of the 
Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) have visited Edinburgh in recent 
weeks to give a heroin-dealing operation their blessing and a special unit 
has been set up by Lothian and Borders Police to deal with a 50-strong gang 
of violent criminals who have taken hold of the city's drug trade.

Fears of Belfast rivalries spilling on to the streets of Scotland escalated 
after it was revealed that 'Mad Dog' Johnny Adair, head of the Ulster 
Freedom Fighters (UFF), had arrived in Ayrshire on Friday night for a 
fundraising event. A truce between the factions was only drawn up recently 
after a bloody turf war in Ulster.

On Princes Street and the Royal Mile tourists peer at magazines resplendent 
with pictures of acts and information about where to go and what to see. 
Bollywood is the dominant theme.

Yet just a few miles away on the estates of Wester Hailes and Sighthill, 
all the talk is about criminal gangs born out of the Troubles spreading 
their tentacles across the Irish Sea.

A security source last week said: 'Northern Ireland isn't big enough for 
all of them to operate in at the same time and they are always on the 
lookout for new patches. It seems that the mainland is where they want to 
expand their operations now.'

Sectarian problems in Scotland have traditionally been associated with the 
west coast. Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire have strong links with 
Northern Ireland and marching flute bands from Scotland regularly make the 
short hop to Belfast. And, of course, Rangers and Celtic attract faithful 
support from the Province.

Links between Glasgow underworld operators and paramilitaries were 
established a number of years ago, and weapons and drugs quickly became 
common currency. One loyalist source said: 'Hundreds of thousands of 
pounds' worth of drugs are being traded monthly. Although Scotland doesn't 
receive guns in return for every shipment, weapons are often handed to 
gangsters by way of a thank you or to top up payments.'

Those connections remain, but it was in the east that the crime lords 
spotted their opportunity. One local keen to remain anonymous said: 
'Compared to Belfast, Edinburgh offered easy pickings for these guys. 
Anyone else selling drugs in the area has moved on because of the threats, 
or has started selling for the Irish.'

Another claimed that gang members strutted the streets with pit bull 
terriers by their side and claimed to be members of the UVF. He said a 
child wearing a Celtic strip had unwittingly wandered near a home that had 
come under the control of the gang. 'They held a gun to his head and told 
him never to wear it again. He was terrified.'

Brian Fallon, Edinburgh councillor for the area, said: 'People have come 
into the community from Northern Ireland and there have been allegations of 
drug dealing and other criminal activity. The police, the housing 
department and the social work department are all working closely to try to 
resolve this situation.'

The profits of the Edinburgh trade are laundered through pubs in the west 
of Scotland run by sympathisers and the cash returns to Northern Ireland, 
where it underpins expanding criminal empires.

In a recent report to the House of Commons, the Northern Ireland Affairs 
Committee said republican and loyalist paramilitaries could be netting more 
than UKP18m a year from criminal activities.

In the past two months existing drugs gangs have fled the streets of 
Edinburgh's schemes and a stand-off between locals and the loyalist gang 
saw police deploy a riot squad in an attempt to keep the peace.
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