Hundreds of police stage north London raids


[from Guardian]

Hundreds of police stage north London raids

Riot Police in Finsbury

About 600 police officers congregate in Finsbury Park, north London, before a raid on Blackstock Road, where up to 19 businesses allegedly deal in drugs, fraud and theft. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Police today said they had deployed 600 officers in a series of north London raids yesterday in order to stop criminals “acting with impunity”.

The raids happened in Blackstock Road, only minutes away from where Gordon Brown was meeting the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, at Arsenal football club’s Emirates stadium.

In an operation that had been planned for 12 months, officers sealed off a stretch of the street in which they believed at least 19 cafes and other businesses were being used by criminals.

Surveillance had revealed evidence of drug dealing, money laundering, the sale of stolen goods and trade in fake documents.

The road, close to the Finsbury Park mosque, is dominated by cafes and internet cafes, mainly owned by people of Afghan origin.

Police said many of those suspected of involvement in the criminal network were of Algerian descent.

Scores of officers, dressed in full riot gear and accompanied by dog handlers, lined up in silence in nearby residential streets before beginning the raids.

Chief Superintendent Bob Carr, the Islington borough commander who was responsible for the operation, said the scale of the raid was “unprecedented”.

However, he stressed that the measures were necessary because of the large number of crimes taking place in a small area.

“I think what has happened here in this area is, for some reason, criminals have felt this is the place to come to sell their wares and do their deals – that is, both drugs and stolen property,” he said.

“Because it is a very small area, there was a feeling they can do it with impunity … this raid shows they cannot.”

Carr said police had evidence of at least 70 drug deals taking place in the area. Prior to yesterday, officers had seized 2kg of heroin and a “substantial quantity” of cocaine.

Stolen property including 120 laptops, 50 cameras and dozens of satnavs and other electronic items were also seized, officers said.

One national telephone company said 40% of all stolen handsets went on to be used in the area.

Plain clothes officers who mixed with shoppers in the street identified themselves with fluorescent baseball caps as officers began to make arrests.

Shoppers were stopped and questioned at cordons as they attempted to leave the area.

The operation was the second phase in a day of raids targeting loosely connected criminal networks.

A further 500 officers led co-ordinated dawn raids at 37 addresses across the capital earlier in the day, making 35 arrests.

Police said the raids were completely separate from the security operation surrounding the visit by Brown and Sarkozy to Arsenal’s ground.

The raids involved officers from the Met, the City of London police, the British Transport police and the immigration service.

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