Feature: Inside St Albans' Operation Retuned drugs bust
PUBLISHED: 20:00 24 December 2017
Picture the scene: festivities are gaining momentum as Christmas speeds closer, St Albans is blanketed in thick snow, and I am dragging myself, weary-eyed, out of bed to the jolly backing track of an alarm blaring at 3.30am.
The Herts Ad has been invited to join an Operation Retuned drugs bust in action - and by 5am I am creeping up flights of stairs along with a troop of police officers to surprise a flat in St Albans.
It is scheduled early to catch the suspects off-guard when they are more likely to be at home.
This raid is the culmination of six months’ worth of investigation and is one of many taking place across the district, with 70 officers on duty for each stage.
It is not just Herts police working either - there are officers from Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Dog Unit as well as the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit.
A number of suspects had already been arrested in the first phase of the operation, including Sedric Smith, 37, of Connaught Road, Harrow; Zulfiqar Ali, 49, of Sleapshyde Lane, St Albans; Conrad Thorpe, 40, of Denmark Road, Haringey; Simon Aruchanga, 47, of Folly Avenue, St Albans; Amine Harti, 20, of Hatfield Road, St Albans; Wayne Ypey, 46, of Bricket Road, St Albans; Michak Cornelio, 18, of Bressex Avenue, Enfield. They all appeared at Hatfield Remand Court (HRC) on December 7 for Class A drugs offences.
They will all next appear via video link at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, January 5 2018.
We are joining the second phase and it all happens very quickly - by the time everyone is upstairs, the battering ram is out, the door is broken inwards, everyone is shouting, and the suspect has been arrested.
After Donal Kelliher, 48, of Charrington Place, St Albans was arrested - and later charged with supplying Class A drugs - a search of the flat ensued with the help of 12-year-old labrador and veteran sniffer dog, Bertie.
There were six other arrests on the same night, including Kamrul Islam, 27, of Napier Close, London Colney, and Philippa Havard, 56, of Ladies Grove.
Our escort, PC Steve Whittaker, said although he finds these rarer jobs exciting, they are not the reason he joined the police: “I really enjoy everything about the job, full-stop, so I would struggle to say what my favourite part is.
“Some people say the driving is their favourite, and that can be fun with the blue lights, but I joined the job to try and help people and that’s why I am here, that’s why I wear the uniform, and that’s all I think about.”
He said it was satisfying to hear about successful raids because it means their work is making a difference.
Afterwards, St Albans Ch Insp Shane O’Neill said: “Following a six-month operation, we have arrested several people we believe have been dealing drugs in St Albans.
“I’d like to thank members of the public for providing vital information to the police which was used in conjunction with police intelligence to carry out a number of drugs warrants both today and last week.
“We know many people who take drugs also commit other types of crime too, including residential burglary, to feed their habits, so these arrests are particularly significant.”
He said they hope some of those arrested will spend Christmas behind bars.
Adding: “With other agencies, we will also help the younger and more manipulated suspects conquer their addictions and chaotic lifestyles.”
Back at my desk, I am pleased my job does not require early starts on a regular basis and thankful police officers are willing to make that sacrifice for the community.
Anyone with information about drug taking or supply should contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.