Published: 00:01, 08 January 2016
An undercover police operation – run from a shop trading in second-hand goods and aimed at “death peddling” drugs gangs - has resulted in more than 100 arrests.
The sting - codenamed Operation Cargo – targeted Class A and B dealers in Thanet and resulted in jail sentences of up to three years in the first of 45 cases to be heard this week.
They include a 39-year-old fisherman selling cannabis from a squat and a 49-year-old mum-of-two offering to collect cocaine.
Now the detective who led the raids has told a judge that drugs supply and “associated crime” in the region is “often disproportionate” to the rest of Kent.
In a statement read to Canterbury Crown Court, DCI Peter Swan revealed that the crackdown had been commissioned to tackle the problem of the supply of Class A drugs.
He said the 140,000 population had suffered from one of the highest crime rates in the county and a “disproportionate level” of crime and anti-social behaviour.
DCI Swan added: “Much of the overall crime is drug related and committed by those residing in the district.
“Major networks dealing across Margate and Ramsgate include multiple offenders from outside the district who choose to peddle death away from their home areas.
“These networks have historically targeted vulnerable local people to assist them, thereby increasing their capacity to distribute drugs and direct criminality, particularly dealing and distributing heroin and crack cocaine through established drug network lines.”
He told Judge James O’Mahony – the judge tasked to sentence those who have admitted dealing – that Thanet had a large number of vulnerable “looked-after children” who were targeted and employed by gangs".
The senior officer said the secret second-hand shop operation had been aimed at disrupting gangs “whatever the size and scale of their activity”.
He said the gangs had a "structured and tiered make-up", with those at the top “generally highly respected individuals” in the criminal fraternity “who carry the most influence over the direction of their activity".
The officer added: “In Thanet, the established networks have often preyed upon the vulnerable, young and easily manipulated individuals to work for them.
“Many fall foul to believing that by running drugs they will gain wealth and a street name that will generate a profitable future.
“The reality is often completely different with threats and intimidation occurring on a regular basis.
"Thanet dealers have historically used schools, colleges, children’s homes and vulnerable families to recruit, “ he added.
Judge O’Mahony heard how “turf wars” between rival gangs had recently led to “high profile” violence linked to the drugs trade.
But after last year's undercover operation there were now “fewer dealers” on the streets and it had led to a reduction in the availability of Class A drugs.
DCI Swan added: “Significant terms of imprisonment would send out a clear message to those engage with this type of offending and would keep the residents of Thanet much safer.
“The blight and detrimental impact gangs are inflicting on previously peaceful communities has been hard to bear.
“Many residents live in fear and are therefore too afraid to put pen to paper and stand up against this menace.”
The judge said the number of arrests made by undercover officers had proved that police officers were right in their perception of a “thriving criminal trade in dealing in Class A drugs in Kent".
As he began handing out sentences he warned those convicted of dealing should not expect “anything other than a significant immediate custodial sentence.”
On the first of four days of sentencing, 14 offenders appeared before the judge to receive sentences including Beverley Ritson, of Millmead Road who was given a two-year jail sentence suspended for two years after admitting offering to supply an undercover officer with Class A drugs.
The judge told her: “The history of your life is a picture of why the courts must be severe with people who supply drugs because they wreck lives in every sense.”
But he said that after hearing how she had raised two children, one at university studying dance and a second working for a London NHS trust, he accepted she was at the lower end of the drugs chain and ordered her to do 200 hours of unpaid work for the community.
Fisherman Darren Ashdown, 39, who was living in a squat in Rodney Street, Ramsgate, was jailed for 20 months after admitting supplying cannabis.
The court heard how when police turned up at the squat there was a queue of people waiting to buy drugs.
The judge told him: “You think you are outside the law...you are not!”