'Carl Williams wannabe' caught

Police strike: Northern Rivers Seafood on the Pacific Highway at West Ballina where two men were tackled and detained by police on Wednesday afternoon.
Police strike: Northern Rivers Seafood on the Pacific Highway at West Ballina where two men were tackled and detained by police on Wednesday afternoon. Doug Eaton

A GOLD COAST gangster accused of hiring a hit man for $150,000 to kill three witnesses thought to be testifying against him in an upcoming drug trial faced court in Ballina yesterday.

Stephen Ward, 29, thought to be from Nerang on the Gold Coast, was charged with three counts of soliciting to murder.

He was refused bail and remanded in custody to appear in the Lismore Local Court in July.

The ambitious criminal – known in Gold Coast underworld circles as a ‘Carl Williams wannabe’– met his match as he stopped for lunch in Ballina on Wednesday afternoon.

Ward was caught hook, line and sinker by detectives as he and a companion pulled up at Northern Rivers Seafood, near the ‘big pineapple’ on the Pacific Highway, about 12.35pm.

Detectives from Strike Force Manahan, working in conjunction with Ballina detectives, had been tailing Ward’s black late-model Hilux dual-cab down the highway before pouncing on the pair as they entered the popular seafood outlet.

Stunned staff and customers watched on as six detectives tackled and detained the men.

Staff at the seafood shop said four detectives jumped Ward, quickly bundling him into a police car and whisking him away, while two detectives searched and questioned the second man.

“It was lunch time so we were pretty busy at the time,” said a staff member, who asked not to be named.

“At first I heard all the commotion and I saw a man on the ground. I thought he was in trouble, but when I walked out and saw guns and handcuffs I backed right off.

“The coppers were very professional. They asked us to stand back and apologised for the trouble saying they had been waiting for the men to pull up somewhere and it just happened to be here.

“They spent about another 20 minutes questioning the other man before they left – though they did borrow some latex gloves from us.

“One detective came back later and thanked us for co-operating with them.”

Staff could not confirm if they had seen the pair in the shop before, though the outlet is a known favourite among locals.

Strike Force Manahan is an interstate joint investigation formed last month comprising detectives from the NSW State Crime Command’s Drug Squad and the Queensland Police Service’s Drug and Property Crime Group attached to their State Crime Operations Command.

Strike force detectives in both states remained tight-lipped about the ongoing operation yesterday and would not confirm if the arrest was connected to a string of warrants executed around the Gold Coast in the past few days.

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