Police have made a significant number of arrests during a massive operation to smash an organised crime group suspected of actively recruiting children in Northamptonshire to facilitate class A drug dealing.
More than 250 officers took part in Operation Serpent, a three-day intelligence-led operation during which police executed simultaneous warrants targeting multiple addresses in Kettering and north-west London.
The dealers are suspected of actively recruiting and grooming county children as street dealers and drugs mules.
A total of 18 people have so far been arrested with a number already brought before the courts and remanded in custody.
This week’s activity was the culmination of an operation which first began in 2017 against the Kay Line group which, until this week, had posed the highest risk of any gang in the county.
Since they were first put under investigation in 2017, police have seized more than £80,000 in Class A drugs from the gang as well as £10,000 in cash.
The first day of enforcement activity, involving more than 100 Northamptonshire Police officers, assisted by the Met Police, took place on Tuesday in northwest London when five warrants were served in Hillingdon and Ealing.
Around £5,000 in cash as well as Class A and B drugs, knives and a corrosive substance were also seized as part of subsequent searches of the addresses.
Two men, aged 28 and 29 and one woman, aged 53, were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, human trafficking and modern slavery offences.
On Wednesday, officers, supported by specialist dog handlers and search teams, struck at a number of addresses in Kettering with all eight target suspects arrested by officers.
And on day three, yesterday, warrants were executed at four more Kettering addresses and one in Thrapston, leading to the arrests of seven more people suspected of having links to the organised crime group.
Detective Inspector Steve Watkins who led the operation, which has been meticulously planned over more than 18 months, said: “This highly organised, London-based gang had formed a network of drug dealers and associates in Kettering which they were using to target and recruit young people to supply drugs on their behalf while holding them in servitude.
“I cannot understate enough the impact that our actions over the last three days have had on the lives of the people living in Kettering and, in particular, those who have been exploited by this criminal group. They have spread misery and caused significant harm to innumerable people.
“We have sent a loud and clear message to all those who would come to our county and try to cause us harm, and to anyone who would try and criminally exploit children in the future.
“I’m in no doubt this week’s activity has significantly disrupted the supply of class A drugs in this county and that our communities are safer as a result.”
Assistant Chief Constable Simon Blatchly, head of operations at Northamptonshire Police, said: “This week’s activity demonstrates this Force’s ability to tackle and very significantly disrupt organised crime groups in this county and, crucially, safeguard vulnerable young people who fall prey to those peddling drugs.
“I’d like to thank everyone involved in this highly successful operation which sends out a clear message to those involved in drugs supply in this county.
“County Lines criminality remain a threat, but Operation Serpent sends out a very clear message to those involved in drugs supply that Northamptonshire Police: We will pursue you tirelessly and relentlessly.”
Anyone with information about suspected drug dealing in their communities should contact Northamptonshire Police on 101 or call Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555111.