“A THIRD of people in Cheshire are worried about drugs. We have a fantastic opportunity to make a real statement this morning.”
So said chief constable Simon Byrne as he rallied his officers at a secret location ahead of Cheshire Constabulary’s largest ever series of pre-planned drugs raids at 6am yesterday.
The words must have sunk in, as 30 minutes later a team were smashing down the door of a home in Lache, Chester.
Invited along to witness the dawn raids, the Leader joined bleary-eyed neighbours in pyjamas who had ventured outside to investigate the commotion.
Some, it must be said, did not seem impressed. But according to Cheshire Police, it is these neighbours of criminals who are to thank for the scale and success of the aptly named Operation ImpACT.
The force, working alongside colleagues in Merseyside, has spent the past 12 months gathering evidence, working undercover and, most importantly, analysing the reams of intelligence offered by members of the public.
Yesterday’s raid was one of 40 taking place simultaneously across the two counties, carried out by 340 officers.
The Leader witnessed two more, in Saltney and Chester city centre, and others were carried out in Blacon and Hoole.
The local raids were overseen by Derek Lockie, chief inspector for operations in the county, who was pleased with his team’s work.
“I think it’s been really successful,” he said, timing his comments perfectly as an alleged drug dealer was marched past in handcuffs in the city centre.
“This is the culmination of a 12-month operation that shows the public that when they do share information we are able to take action. It should be very impactive within Cheshire.”
It later transpired that a total of 32 people, 27 men and five women, had been arrested in connection with drugs offences and were now “helping police with their enquiries”.
Indeed, Chester Magistrates’ Court has set aside an entire court to process the cases today.
Despite the apparent success of the operation, the locations of the raids suggested the targets were far from the money-making big players of the county’s drug scene.
However, Mr Lockie denied the operation was focused on the ‘minnows’ and stressed the importance of tackling the drugs problem on all levels.
He said: “Today is predominantly about the supply and dealing of class A drugs, targeting drug dealers and those involved in organised crime.
“These people have been causing misery to a lot of residents and families around the Chester area.”
Mr Byrne, the chief constable, was also more than happy with the scope of Operation ImpACT, and urged people to continue to support the police by supplying information on criminals.
“This operation is very significant,” he said. “It will take out a whole tier of criminality.
“I would encourage your readers to tell their local neighbourhood team or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 if they have any intelligence on drugs because we will always act on it.”
l At the time of going to press eight people have been charged as part of Operation ImpACT.
The six men, one woman and one juvenile were all due to appear before West Cheshire Magistrates Court this morning.