Police search at a house in Byron Bay as part of a series of drug-related raids across the region.
Police search at a house in Byron Bay as part of a series of drug-related raids across the region. JAY CRONAN

Third arrest over ecstasy factory

A SEVEN-MONTH investigation into what police have described as Australia’s most sophisticated ecstasy manufacturing operation yesterday chalked up its third arrest.

Detective Senior Constable Gary Sheen, who is overseeing the efforts of Strike Force Barsden, said a 28-year-old Byron Bay man was yesterday charged with conspiracy to manufacture a prohibited drug.

The man, who had earlier agreed to meet with detectives at Byron Bay police station, was refused bail and will appear in the Lismore Local Court today.

The arrest follows a multi-agency investigation, including officers from State Crime Command’s drug squad, the Australian Crime Commission, Queensland police and officers from the Tweed-Byron Local Area Command.

The investigation began last June into cocaine distribution and safrole oil – a precursor chemical for ecstasy – manufacture and culminated last Thursday with a series of raids on six properties at Byron Bay, Bangalow, Mullumbimby and Byrrill Creek, near Uki, which police said had nipped Australia’s most sophisticated ecstasy production operation in the bud.

During the raids, officers from Strike Force Barsden seized two pill press machines, worth about $20,000 each and capable of producing about 6000 pills per hour. They also seized ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine and ‘dozens and dozens’ of bottles of liquid, thought to be the precursor chemicals needed to make ecstasy.

It was those bottles that set the raids in the record books – it was the first time police had found a clandestine lab in Australia capable of making the precursor chemicals.

The raids ended with the arrest of Luke Adams Witten, 24, of McLeods Shoot, south of Ewingsdale, and another Byron Shire man. Witten, who yesterday remained in custody, is due to appear the Lismore Local Court on February 16.

The other man arrested during the raids will appear in Mullumbimby Local Court on February 11.

Det Snr Const Sheen said police were continuing to investigate the case, but did not expect to make more arrests over the operation in the near future.



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