[from Daily Express]


Friday March 28,2008

By John Twomey

HUNDREDS of police in riot gear marched into a busy shopping street yesterday afternoon in a dramatic crackdown on drug dealers, thieves and passport forgers.

The 600 officers were part of a 1,122-strong unit that swooped on notorious crime gangs plaguing a North London borough.

Senior officers rejected accusations that it was overkill or “gesture” policing, insisting the army-size operation was fully justified. After months of planning, columns of crash-helmeted police marched down a side street in Finsbury Park and on to Blackstock Road – an alleged crime zone.

With part of the road sealed off, officers stormed 19 business premises, including cafes, to arrest suspects, recover stolen property and collect evidence.

A police source said: “The numbers of officers were necessary, bearing in mind the number of premises which needed to be searched and the large number of people who were likely to be arrested.”

The source added: “The operation was designed to ensure the maximum amount of evidence was secured with the minimum amount of risk to all concerned.”

The Finsbury Park arrests were part of a wider operation – codenamed Mista – in which 56 addresses across Britain were searched.

Last night 37 people were being questioned about a range of offences, including money laundering, handling stolen goods, drugs and producing fake official documents. Many of those involved in the criminal network are of Algerian origin.

Chief Superintendent Bob Carr, in charge of the operation, said: “These arrests have been the culmination of a lengthy operation by the Metropolitan Police, supported by the British Transport Police and the Immigration Service, to target those who we believe are involved in criminal activity.

“The operation has taken many months in the planning.

“We know we have the support of the wider community in this area who have constantly raised the issue of criminality to the Safer Neighbourhoods teams.

“This is part of a long-term strategy to ensure those intent on criminal activity no longer gravitate towards the area.”

He said more suspects are likely to be held in the coming weeks. Operation Mista officers have already recovered 350 items of property including 120 laptops, 110 cameras, 32 iPods, 20 satnavs, 47 forged documents passports and driving licences.

The raids in Blackstock Road followed months of surveillance which revealed evidence of drug dealing, money laundering, the sale of stolen goods and a thriving trade in fake documents.

One national telephone company claimed 40 per cent of all stolen handsets go on to be used in the area.


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