DRUG dealers were openly selling heroin and crack cocaine to queues of addicts in Swindon parks.

It was this brazenness that angered Det Insp Paul Franklin above all else.

The officer is the man in charge of the county’s dedicated crime teams – what in years gone by would have been known as Wiltshire’s drugs squad.

And it was Mr Franklin who oversaw the undercover operation – called Jetway – that saw dozens of drug dealers arrested over the summer.

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He had already used the tactic on a smaller scale in Salisbury three years ago.

Its purpose: to give police a better idea of how the different drugs operations worked across Swindon.

The town has long suffered from the County Lines menace, with London dealers moving into addicts homes in Swindon and using them as a base from which to sell drugs.

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Paul Franklin Picture: TREVOR PORTER

Analysis by the National Crime Agency suggested there could be as many as 37 drug lines moving through Swindon. And intelligence pointed towards local youths setting up their own County Lines-style operations.

Mr Franklin told the Adver: “We knew Swindon was really busy in terms of the number of lines but it’s difficult to get a true picture of what’s actually happening.”

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By sending officers in undercover to buy drugs, police chiefs would better understand where the deals were happening and who was selling – meaning they could target stretched resources.

“It was bad in Swindon at that time. The market seemed to be more open than we thought,” Mr Franklin admitted.

“Generally, drug dealing is quite discreet.

“It had come forward from that. People were being quite overt. They weren’t taking precautions.”

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He added: “There were dozens and dozens of different lines.”

They ranged from the traditional County Lines operations run from the capital by London street gangs through to Swindon-born lines and one man bands.

“It was much wider and much more prevalent than we had realised,” Mr Franklin said.

Between around April and September, officers made scores of test purchases. The undercover names of four officers appear time and again in the charges read out in court: Steve, Yasmin, Amy and Rob.

They would work alone or backed up by teams of plain-clothes and uniformed officers who could stop and search the dealers.

The majority of those caught out in the sting were the runners: young men pressurised or groomed into dealing drugs or addicts peddling heroin and crack cocaine in order to feed their own habit.

But Mr Franklin defended the tactic against accusations police had simply swept up the small fry.

“We’ve got to start at the beginning, start at the bottom to see who’s got what,” he told the Adver. Each runner was likely to have a phone filled with messages that could be used to lead detectives to those higher up the chain.

Police swooped in October, arresting more than 60 people – most of whom had been caught supplying drugs to the undercover officers.

Detectives claim the arrests have pushed the drug dealers back into the shadows more.

For Mr Franklin, that’s a positive result. The senior detective had been angered by the way the dealers were behaving.

Asked what had shocked him most, he said: “I think it was just the brazenness of the dealing happening in the parks. When you walk through the parks you’d get mums, dads and small children there. And you’ve got people smoking cannabis and dealing heroin.

“You should be able to go to the park on a weekday afternoon with your kids without having to watch a line of addicts queueing up waiting to be served.

“To me, that was totally unacceptable.”