Police lead away a man in Camden Town
Published: 31 March, 2016
By WILLIAM McLENNAN
HUNDREDS of officers clad in riot gear shattered the pre-dawn peace early yesterday (Wednesday) as the doors to 14 homes were kicked open in a crackdown on the sale of cannabis and cocaine on the canal towpath.
The dramatic raids follow a four-month undercover investigation triggered by a series of stabbings, which detectives believe were the result of disputes between dealers who control the lucrative trade of class A and B drugs along the Grand Union Canal.
Police said yesterday that all 10 of those arrested were linked to a Camden Town gang which they identify as the “TMS” or “The Money Squad”.
Drug dealing on the towpath between Kentish Town Road and Camden High Street is a decades-old issue. Even before the suspects had been transported to holding cells yesterday, senior officers admitted that a fresh wave of dealers would be looking to move into the area.
Inspector Simon Brooker said: “The next stage for us is to patrol the area and stop another group moving into the gap, whether that be other members of this gang or another group.”
Officers on horseback and boats from the Met’s Marine Unit are expected to be part of increased patrols in the area in coming days.
Yesterday’s raid is the latest in a long line of attempts to stem the open drug market in Camden Town, an issue that police receive regular tip-offs about.
Attempts by uniformed officers to curb the trade are thwarted by dealers’ tendency to stash drugs in hiding places along the canal. As a result Met bosses have been forced to commit more resources to tackle the problem.
In 2002, a high-profile sting, known as Operation Grandilla, led to 26 charges and the seizure of more than six kilos of cannabis, but within weeks residents were complaining of a return to business as usual.
In 2008, Operation Nardus led to 12 people being charged with the supply of cocaine and heroin. Eight of the 12 lived within a short walk of the towpath.
In the latest clampdown, codenamed Operation Lighthouse, undercover officers used video cameras to record suspected deals, before arresting the customer, seizing drugs and taking witness statements.
Insp Brooker said that yesterday’s “arrest phase” was the culmination of months of painstaking investigative work, adding: “The evidence for this job is there already. We are just nicking people today.”
The New Journal was the only newspaper invited to a 5am briefing at Kentish Town police station yesterday, when officers explained the motivation for the investigation.
It is understood that a string of violent assaults, including at least two stabbings, at the end of last year were the result of “disagreements” between members of TMS and rival gang members from Queen’s Crescent.
The 14 simultaneous raids were carried out by more than 200 officers and were co-ordinated from the Met central control room in Lambeth, overseen by Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Packer.
Simon Pitkeathley, chief executive of Camden Town Unlimited, who has previously raised the issue of a rising number of drug dealers targeting tourists and revellers, joined officers in an unmarked car outside a suspect’s home off St Pancras Way.
As a dozen officers from the Met Tactical Support Group stormed their way into the three-storey terraced home, Mr Pitkeathley said: “We’ve been concerned about the increasing levels of drug dealing in Camden Town for some time and have been in dialogue with police and hearing about the evidence gathering that’s been going on. It’s great to see it all coming to a head this morning. Camden feels like a safer place today.”
Inside the house, the 24-year-old suspect sat in handcuffs alongside his mother and younger siblings as a team of six uniformed officers searched his home.
He was taken to Charing Cross Police Station, where he and the other nine suspects remain in custody. All 10 were expected to be charged late last night.
Borough commander Penny Banham said afterwards that the operation came in response to complaints from members of the public and was an example of the force’s “You said – we did” approach.
She added: “Drug dealing is a priority for Camden Police as well as tackling the complex issue of gang membership.
“While today has seen substantial enforcement activity regarding those suspected of drug dealing in Camden Town, we are committed to working with partners to encourage the engagement and diversion away from a life of crime for young people involved in or on the periphery of gangs.”