DOZENS of police officers swooped on addresses in the North yesterday in a bid to smash a large-scale heroin ring.
Jubilant officers said afterwards they believed “major players” in the supply of the drug in and around Chester-le-Street, County Durham, had been taken out of circulation.
The series of raids followed a year-long investigation, Operation Pembroke, into the supply of heroin in the town.
One senior policeman said the increase in the use of the drug had led to a corresponding rise in crime in Chester-le-Street town centre.
Inspector Paul Anderson added: “We have noticed an increase in street robberies, purse snatches, shoplifting and the like. We believe these crimes are being committed to fund drug habits.
“This long-running operation has been several months in the planning and has been designed to break up and disrupt the supply of heroin in and around Chester-le-Street. Those who choose to get involved in this sort of criminal activity should be aware they will become police targets.
“We hope these highly visible raids will provide residents with reassurance that we are committed to tackling those supplying heroin.”
Around 80 officers carried out simultaneous raids on houses in Tuart Street and Fifth Avenue, Chester-le-Street; Windsor Terrace in Great Lumley; Arthur Street in High Handenhold; John Street, in No Place, Stanley and Butler Road in Newton Aycliffe.
Officers also made an arrest at a house in Sulgrave, Washington.
Those arrested – seven men and four women – are aged between 22 and 47. They were taken to Durham City police station for questioning.
All have been detained on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs with the exception of one of the men who was arrested for breaching a court order.
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How the raids were executed
AT 7.30 am yesterday 80 officers - some in uniform and some in plain clothes - arrived for a briefing in a lecture theatre at Durham police headquarters, Aykley Heads.
They were briefed by area commander Supt Jane Spraggon, Assistant Chief Constable Michael Banks, and Community Inspector Paul Anderson.
The final stages of Operation Pembroke - a long-running operation to cut the supply of heroin in and around Chester-le-Street - was about to get underway.
Supt Spraggon told them yesterday’s raids were the result of "lots of effort and good policing," and wished them a "good strike."
Inspector Anderson apologised for "teaching you to suck eggs" but cautioned: "We are dealing not only with people supplying, but also people using heroin. Be careful, we don’t want any officer pricked with a needle."
Then a convoy of police vans swept out of Aykley Heads and onto a variety of addresses.
In one, Tuart Street, just off the town’s busy high street, officers used a battering ram to force open the front door. The police action was welcomed by neighbours.
John Robson, 77, a retired fitter, said: "This is a nice, quiet street but the house where the raid took place today does seem to attract some undesirables.
"It is reassuring to know the police are taking action if they think drugs are being sold."
The house in Tuart Street where three men were led away in handcuffs was also at the scene of a police drama in April last year.
Officers sealed off the street for three hours after a man seen leaving the Co-op store in the town centre threatened staff with a meat cleaver, after they challenged him over a bottle of spirits he had not paid for.
He ran into the house in Tuart Street, just 50 yards away, but after armed officers surrounded it and ordered him out using a loud hailer, they eventually forced their way inside and discovered it was empty. He ran into the house at the back but then out again at the front. A man was later arrested on suspicion of making threats to kill.