By Christine Lavelle
SCOTLAND’S notorious crack cocaine gangs were targeted during a series of dawn raids by police today.
At least a dozen people and several thousands of pounds worth of drugs and cash were seized in the major operation involving some 100 police officers.
It was thought that suspected ‘Yardie’ gang members were among those detained in swoops on several properties across the north of Edinburgh by Lothian and Borders Police and the UK Border Agency.
The targets included six addresses in the Leith where at least two thousand pounds worth of drugs – mainly crack cocaine, heroin and cannabis – were seized along with several thousand pounds worth of cash.
At one property alone, four men believed to be foreign nationals who had been living in a second floor flat on Iona Street were arrested and suspected of being involved in so-called ‘Yardie gangs’.
Police say such gangs are notorious for their involvement in violent crime and the illegal drug trade – notably cannabis and crack cocaine – across the UK and overseas.
However detectives hesitate in calling them ‘organised criminals’ claiming there appears to be no central leadership.
Officers from the UK Border Agency were also present at the raids because of likely immigration issues.
They were called in to assist as some of the alleged dealers are believed to be originally from Jamaica, moving to Edinburgh from Birmingham and other areas in the north and midlands of England.
In one operation following six months of surveillance work a group of eight policemen from the Lothian and Borders force knocked down a door using a hydraulic battering ram at around 6am.
Four suspects were detained and led away to waiting police vans in handcuffs trying to obscure their faces from camera.
Drugs and suspected dirty money were recovered from the scene.
The suspects were taken to the Lothian and Borders Police divisional headquarters at St Leonards Street, and a number of men are expected to appear in court today (Thur).
Chief Superintendent Gill Imery, divisional commander for the city of Edinburgh, said: “There has been a growing awareness during the last year about an increase in the supply of crack cocaine in Edinburgh.
“The operation today was put together in order to deal with drug dealing activity across the north of Edinburgh.
“And specifically to deal with groups that have come from out with the city and sought to establish a foothold on the drugs market in Edinburgh – we are trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“This is the culmination of six months of work, with a lot of effort coming from a lot of different people – not just within the police force but also our colleagues from the council and health services, in order to get to where we are today.
“This is the early part of an enforcement phase targeted at people dealing class A drugs, predominantly crack cocaine, on the streets of Edinburgh.
“There are people not from the city itself, but from the north of England or elsewhere, who have mistakenly thought that Edinburgh is a place where they can establish their criminal network and the operation today is the start of that very clear message, that they absolutely cannot do so.”
Linked to prostitution
The high presence of street prostitutes in the same Leith area is seen to be a significant contributing factor for the influx of such groups to the area where they sell on their crack cocaine to desperate addicts.
Police say they rely heavily on the contribution made by members of the public, who report their suspicions either directly to them or anonymously through Crimestoppers.
By piecing the information together, police are able to gather evidence through surveillance, building a picture of what is actually happening on the streets.
Edinburgh’s crack cocaine problem has soared this past year.
Between April 2009 and March 2010, 3.2 kilos was seized by police, compared to the same period the year before when 109 grammes was recovered, and only 93 grammes in 2007-08.
Chief Superintendent Imery said: “We have seen an increase over the past year of recoveries of crack cocaine, which is indicative of an increase in the market.
“Equally as important as this enforcement activity is all the work that goes on all the time to actually reduce demand for drugs – not just for crack cocaine.
“In tandem with this operation we have officers going into schools and talking about drugs and giving those prevention messages.
“Likewise colleagues in health will give the harm-reduction message, so that people who are caught up in this addiction that might have difficulties for taking their supply away will be managed as far as any health implications go.”
Most of the seizures last year came from a raid of one of the city’s most notorious dealers – Mark Richardson – who was jailed for 1o years last month after officers recovered £700,000 worth of crack.
It was the largest seizure of crack cocaine in the Lothian and Borders Police area, and one of the biggest recoveries of the Class A drug in Scotland.
The 23-year-old’s gang was placed under police surveillance for 18 months, which has so far resulted in 66 arrests and £2 million worth of heroin, crack and cocaine being seized.
Todays raids are part of an ongoing activity throughout the city by police and partnering agencies, in a bid to stamp out the illegal drugs trade.
Chief Superintendent Imery added: “These operations are going on all the time, although some of that time it may not be as visible – as I’ve described, we have a lot of activity going on in the background which culminates to an enforcement day like this one.
“At its heart has to be community engagement, by finding out what the problems are in local communities and doing something about it, as well as being seen to be making a difference like we are with these raids.”