The moment drugs squad smashes down a suspected dealer's door
- Credit: Archant
With the second smash of the hardened steel battering ram the door flew backwards on its hinges and an officer in body armour burst through with a shout of “Police! Search warrant!”
This morning’s 5am raid on the address in Aylsham Road in north Norwich was aimed at arresting a suspected top-level drug dealer, a man believed to be behind a significant flow of heroin and cocaine from London.
As officers rushed from the cramped hallway over the threshold, their body language relaxed as it quickly became clear the tiny room was unoccupied.
He was not there but as the team began their fingertip search of the room, the call came through from their colleagues in London - the simultaneous raid on his address in the capital had been a success.
Their suspect was in handcuffs.
We accompanied the team of seven police officers as they enforced the latest search warrant issued under Operation Orochi, the drugs-busting action which has closed down more than half of Norfolk’s “county lines” network since it began in November 2019.
County lines, in police parlance, are the phone numbers on which addicts contact dealers, and through which dealers advertise.
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Each county line represents an illegal business which may have hundreds of customers, and employ dozens of mules, runners or street dealers, some as young as 11 years old.
Police have investigated 53 county lines in the last 18 months, with 110 years of jail time handed down to the 27 high-level dealers convicted of trafficking drugs.
This morning’s 4.45am briefing at the Hurricane Way police station was rapid and workmanlike.
Sgt Jon Church of the Norwich North beat team flicked through his PowerPoint presentation as his officers drank coffee and strapped heavy-duty stab-proof protective gear to their arms and legs.
Mug shots flashed up on the screen, of the main suspect along with an accomplice who officers thought might be at the address. They needed no introduction to the team - after confirming their names, Sgt Church added: “They’re both known to us, we’ve all had dealings with them previously.”
Both were familiar to the team from street intelligence about drug dealing. One has a recent arrest for domestic violence, the other is known to use weapons.
The sergeant confirmed the layout of the property and quickly assigned the team’s responsibilities, wrapping up with a final clear instruction: “Protect each other first, and then go from there.”
It was just after 5am when the small convoy pulled up outside the building on Aylsham Road and within seconds the officers were in position, two at the side gate and four through the front door and up the stairs into the narrow hallway, quickly confirming that the block’s communal kitchen and bathroom were secure and unoccupied.
Then, with two blows of the 16kg Enforcer ram, slamming three tonnes of impact force into the wood, the lock was forced from its socket and the door flew open.
Other residents in only their underwear poked their heads into the hallway, startled awake by the noise. Officers promised they would get an explanation shortly.
Then the team went to work, methodically searching the room for evidence of drug use, using gloves and penlights.
Under the mattress they found a razor blade with traces of white powder still caked to the blade, and on the desk, ground-in white stains where drugs had been cut.
The team prised up the carpet and dismantled the furniture as they examined the room.
They found dozens of small plastic resealable bags of the type used to distribute cocaine or heroin to users, and a SIM card the contents of which will be poured over by their colleagues in the county lines team.
Less than an hour after the first blow of the battering ram, the operation was wrapping up, with evidence bagged and our drugs squad liaison heading back to his Bethel Street HQ.
It was still not 6am.
A spokesperson for Norfolk Police said: "Following an investigation in to Class A drug supply in Norwich, officers working in partnership with the Metropolitan Police have conducted search warrants at addresses in both Norwich and London this morning.
"As a result of the activity today, a man in his 20s was arrested in London on suspicion of supplying class A drugs. The man remains in police custody where he will be questioned later today whilst the investigation continues.”
This newspaper will continue to report on the case as part of the Archant Investigation Unit’s ongoing coverage of class A drug dealing in the county.