WOMEN protesting against drugs gangs in Newtownards have led a parade through the town to hand in a letter to police calling for tougher action against the criminals.

Hundreds of supporters joined Ards and North Down Women Against Drug Gangs, as they marched in a show of defiance on Monday night against the gangs ‘terrorising this community’.

An estimated 600-strong group gathered in the Portaferry Road area of the town and made their way towards the Comber Road roundabout and back again, without incident.

The procession had originally intended to pass Weavers Grange, the small estate at the centre of the recent feud plaguing the wider Ards and North Down area since March.

But a determination by the Parades Commission curtailed their intentions with a ruling banning them from the area.

Shortly before the parade, police carried out searches in the Weavers Grange area following a threat to ‘shoot and bomb’ those taking part, if they passed the estate.

And in what observers described as a calm atmosphere, free from tension, the marchers kept to their legally permitted route, returning to retrace their path back to the Portaferry Road.

At the Comber Road roundabout two of the campaigners, Pamela Morrison and Stephanie McClure, handed a letter to police, in protest at their ‘failure to do their job and to deal with them’.

“The place for those criminals is prison, but we stand here to highlight the PSNI’s inaction against them and continued facilitation of their activities. This gang parade around in balaclavas, wielding weapons and proclaiming themselves the ‘Real UFF’,” claimed the letter.

“They do all this whilst having seized control of one property in a lovely housing development of Weavers Grange which should be a great place to live for everyone, but this one property has been turned into the nerve-centre of criminality, heroin dealing and every other crime imaginable in our area.

“There are fundamental issues around confidence in loyalist communities that the PSNI will deal with drug gangs. If they do not do so, we fear a vacuum is created and this will have the effect of further prolonging the existence of conflict-related loyalist groups who, rightly or wrongly, will be under pressure from some sections of the community to protect them from these people.

“We don’t want this. We want a situation whereby the only force of law and order is the PSNI, and we want the whole community to have confidence in policing and there to be a strong relationship between the police and local community.”

A PSNI spokesman confirmed that officers from the Paramilitary Crime Task Force carried out two searches in the Weavers Grange area of Newtownards on Monday night.

 A spokesman said the searches were part of an ongoing investigation into criminal activity linked to a feud between drugs gangs in North Down but no arrests were made.

Detective Inspector Corrigan said: “A sum of cash and a small quantity of suspected class A drugs were recovered from one of the properties.

“The PCTF remains committed to tackling all types of criminality linked to paramilitaries. We will continue to work with communities and partners to disrupt those involved in criminal activity, and I would appeal to anyone with any information in relation to the ongoing feud between drug gangs in the area, to contact police on 101. Information can also be provided to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”