THIRTY-NINE people were arrested in Swindon yesterday as a result of the single largest operation ever undertaken by Wiltshire Police.
Addresses in the town centre and Broadgreen areas were added to a combined operation in Greenwich, London, where the force was assisted by Metropolitan Police.
Total arrests in London amounted to six from 15 separate address raids.
Shortly after 9.15am, 400 police officers and partner agencies smashed their way through doors at 55 addresses, woke suspects, arrested them and carted them off to Gablecross police station.
In addition to the arrests made, a large amount of class A drugs, £11,500 in cash, £15,000 in illegal tobacco, over £5,000 in designer clothing, weapons including a samurai sword and a machete were all seized as a part of the operation.
After the residential raids, teams were sent to Manchester Road at 10am, where a number of businesses were targeted for offences relating to the handling of stolen goods.
The operation was the latest in a long line of action days undertaken as a part of Operation Harness, an undercover investigation into the supply of class A drugs in Wiltshire which began on May 8 last year.
After 12 months of preparation for yesterday’s raids, police chiefs felt the time was right to deal a significant blow to the dangerous drug networks which have set up shop in Swindon.
The target for arrests had been set at 65 by those organising the raids, but those checked into custody did not reach that total. This didn’t make the operation a failure according to the lead investigator however.
Speaking at an early stage of yesterday’s operation, Detective Inspector Mike Rees, said: “These people are very transient and it is difficult to pin them down.
“This does not necessarily mean we will not get those we failed to bring in today. We will get them eventually, even if that doesn’t mean today.
“It’s going as well as expected at the moment, though we still have a lot more to do. We will hunt down those we didn’t get in due course.”
At one address in Dean Street a team of eight officers knocked down the door and dragged three men from their beds.
As a part of the briefing for this operation there was a list of photos and names for those wanted in connection with drugs offences, in this case at Dean Street – two of the three were there as expected.
One neighbour in Dean Street, Carla Breford, 26, said: “It’s the people that come with the drugs who cause the problems, gangs and things.
“It’s nice to see the police doing their job.”
Later, staff at the Ali Baba and Zabka Polski Sklep convenience stores in Manchester Road were questioned, searched and arrested.
These and other shops were targeted in connection with the handling of stolen goods – which is seen as a by-product of the escalating crack and heroin issue in Swindon.
The threat of danger and harm to officers was not far from the thoughts of senior officers. In a briefing at RAF Lyneham before the raids, teams were reminded to look after one another in the face of violent individuals.
DI Rees said: “These people may look like kids. Some of them may even be juveniles, but I can assure you they’re nasty, horrible individuals, who won’t think twice about hurting you or using weapons.”
DI Rees later reported no harm had come to his officers and many of those arrested were submissive.
UNDERCOVER WORK NABS DEALERS
TWELVE months of undercover work and patience went into Wiltshire Police’s largest-ever single day of action yesterday.
More than 400 police staff executed warrants at more than 50 addresses as a part of Operation Harness, the Force’s long-term undercover investigation into the supply of class A drugs into Wiltshire.
Harness has been in existence since May 8 last year and there have been several raids and multiple arrests made since then, but yesterday was Wiltshire Police’s hammer blow which targeted 15 separate drug networks operating in Swindon.
Chief Supe-rintendent Paul Mills, head of local policing, said: “This is the culmination of a year’s worth of covert activity.
“The drug problem in Swindon is not disproportionate to anywhere else in the country of a similar size to Swindon. The detrimental impact of crack and heroin in the town extends to user’s families and the wider community. It is time to act.”
Police chiefs were only able to draw up the ambitious bid to put Swindon’s biggest drug dealers behind bars due to a year’s worth of undercover work, which placed officers on the front line and inside the dealers’ inner circle.
An array of factors had to be taken into consideration by Detective Inspector Mike Rees, senior investigating officer for the investigation, and his colleagues before a date could be set on executing their warrants.
DI Rees said: “Our officers have been undercover daily for the best part of 12 months. I have nothing but admiration for them and the job they do as they mingle with drug dealers and thieves. They are in volatile and violent situations every day.”
“There’s a lot of work involved in building up to a day of action like this. Evidence for every one of those we arrest has to be ready for their interviews.
"We are talking about 65 individuals. We have to choose a day when we can bring all of the officers required together and catch as many criminals in one go. We are closing an entire custody unit to bring these people in.
“We have a good intelligence network in Swindon. There isn’t a lot that goes on in Swindon involving drugs that we don’t know about.”