NI drug deaths ‘linked to Birmingham-based gang’

Class C prescription drug Pregabalin

Three men who died from drugs in Northern Ireland were alleged customers of a Birmingham-based gang sending thousands of pills daily through the post, the High Court has heard.

Prosecutors claim the operation, which centred on orders for Xanax and Pregabalin being placed on social media, could rake in £1m a year.

Details emerged as a 20-year-old man accused of involvement in posting packages to addresses in the Londonderry and Strabane areas applied for bail.

Matthew Compton, from Spring Lane in the Erdington area of Birmingam, is charged with possessing and conspiracy to supply Class A and C drugs.

Three others, including a man and woman from Wales, face similar allegations.

The court heard that police launched an investigation following the sudden death of a man in Derry last May.

He was said to have regularly approached a postman on his route to enquire about parcels.

According to a Crown lawyer, detectives established some drug users were sourcing a supply through adverts place online.

“Inquiries have identified three males from Northern Ireland who died as a result of drug-related deaths between 2017-2018 were customers in obtaining drugs from this particular outfit,” she said.

It was claimed that West Midlands Police were “reluctant” to cooperate in seizing packages suspected of being sent through Royal Mail.

PSNI officers then travelled to Birmingham last month, arresting Compton when he was allegedly in possession of a large sack of parcels at a local post office.

The prosecutor contended that CCTV footage links him to the operation.

She said thousands of tablets were being posted up to six days a week, with parcels valued at £84,000 a month or £1m a year.

Defence counsel argued that any alleged link to three deaths in the North West was nothing more than “wild speculation”.

The lawyer insisted: “There are no charges at all relating to the sad demise of each of those individuals.

“For the prosecution, in the absence of any charges, to try to associate the deaths of these poor individuals with this applicant is entirely without basis.”

He further told the court that Compton, on the prosecution case, was merely a “bagman” or courier, rather than the brains behind the alleged operation.

But, adjourning the bail application, Judge Grant said he wanted more answers about the ongoing investigation, along with claims that West Midlands Police had shown a reluctance to cooperate with the PSNI.