SIX men arrested in connection with a major drugs find in North Ayrshire were all Albanian nationals, police have revealed.

And a new Police Scotland report says that the threats posed by organised crime groups from Albania - both locally and across the country - are continuing to increase.

The arrest of the six men – aged 25, 27, 31, 33, 34 and 37 – following a raid on the Ardeer industrial estate on December 15 was confirmed by police at the time, but a new report prepared for North Ayrshire councillors is the first time the nationality of the men arrested has been made public.

They appeared at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on December 18, when they made no plea and were remanded in custody.

Four more Albanian nationals - Besmir Broshka, 36, Armend Krasniqi, 31, Drilon Gapi, 36, and 33-year-old Erando Jaupi – were jailed at the High Court in Glasgow in February for a total of 12 years following a police raid on another unit in the same area, which uncovered cannabis with a maximum potential value of £901,000 in April 2023.

The report, which was prepared for North Ayrshire Council’s police and fire and rescue committee, states: “The threat posed by Albanian organised crime groups continues to increase across Scotland and the wider United Kingdom.

“In December 2023 a large scale cannabis cultivation was discovered in an industrial area of Stevenston. This find was a result of effective partnership working and intelligence sharing.

“During the search of the premises, 850 cannabis plants were recovered and an additional 143.5kg of cannabis. This had an estimated value of £860,000.

"Six Albanian nationals were arrested at the site.”

Also last month, another Albanian national, 23-year-old Dritan Nikolli, was jailed after a police raid on a block of flats in Kilbirnie in April 2023 uncovered cannabis plants worth an estimated £150,000.

And in January our sister title, the Ayr Advertiser, reported that another Albanian national, Elion Kullag, had been handed a two-year jail term for producing cannabis above a shop unit in Ayr's High Street.

The latest Police Scotland report on North Ayrshire drugs crime also reveals the discovery of a ‘hydraulic cocaine press’ after a search of a property in Kilwinning in November.

It adds: “This type of equipment is indicative of high-level drug dealing.

“The householder was arrested and charged with being concerned in supply of Class A controlled drugs, with enquiry ongoing into the drug network in which he operates within.”

The same report, covering the period from April 1 to December 31 last year, reveals that the number of drug supply charges in North Ayrshire has increased year-on-year from 52 to 60.

Charges in connection with cannabis cultivation are also on the increase, from 11 in the final nine months of 2022 to 15 in the same period last year.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "Information and intelligence gleaned from the community via our locality and response officers are the building blocks to identify who is responsible at all levels for the supply of controlled drugs across North Ayrshire.

"Identifying any real patterns to where these crimes are taking place requires the combined work of local officers and divisional staff, building on the community intelligence provided by North Ayrshire residents, community groups or via Crimestoppers."

The same report reveals that 19 drug-related deaths were recorded in North Ayrshire between April 1 and December 31 last year.

According to separate figures published by the Scottish Government earlier this month, detailing the number of suspected drug deaths across Scotland’s police divisions, there were 83 drug-related deaths across the whole of Ayrshire last year – down from a total of 93 in 2022, and the lowest Ayrshire total since 2017.

According to the latest statistics for North Ayrshire, the area saw 37 drug-related deaths in 2022 – down from 39 the year before and again the lowest since 2017, mirroring the trend not just in Ayrshire but across Scotland as a whole.

The 2023 figures on drug deaths by Scottish council area are due to be published in August.