Leeds spice: Wake-up call for dealers as police raid homes in Harehills
Children in uniforms are walking to school as the convoy of almost a dozen marked and unmarked police vehicles leaves the leisure centre car park.
Within minutes we will reach our destination, a pair of flats on St Wilfrid’s Avenue in Harehills that are home to suspected spice dealers.
Nobody knows for sure whether they will be there but the team is prepared for the possibility of others being inside and weapons being within easy reach of them.
The raids are part of Operation Damsondale, an ongoing investigation which has already seen significant success.
Detective Inspector Phil Jackson, of Leeds Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), says: “We’ve been doing this for probably six months and in that time we’ve recovered spice with a total estimated street value of around Â£800,000.”
One earlier set of raids targeted a terraced house in Cross Green, which was being used as a factory for the production of the Class B drug.
Inside were large quantities of spice as well as the chemicals that are typically sprayed onto dried banana leaves to make the synthetic cannabinoid. It resulted in the arrest of five people, who have been released under investigation as the case against them continues to be built.
The trail of intelligence then led to a garage also being set up for production and an address in Halton Moor where 5kg of amphetamines were recovered.
A number of other warrants have now been secured by the team and it is believed both spice and cash are being stored at the first two addresses.
“For us it’s always a bit of a lottery,” Det Insp Jackson says. “We’re saying that we’re going to do this one first, but the drugs could be in the other one.”
Arriving at Fearnville Leisure Centre’s car park at around 7.30am on Thursday, we find two dog teams, a neighbourhood policing van and the unmarked used by SOCU.
Next to arrive is the van filled with specialist officers from West Yorkshire Police’s operational support unit, whose task will be to gain entry to the flats as swiftly as possible.
A recce has already taken place and the team is prepared for the metal grille that has been added to the communal front door. Once through this shared door, they will quickly move up the stairs to enter the two first floor properties and secure them.
Recapping on the plan, Det Insp Jackson tells them: “Just be mindful when you’re going in, you could be finding MDMA, cocaine, needles.”
The sound of boots on the gravel and the ripping of velcro then take over as the ops support officers get on their protective gear, including body armour and helmets.
Explaining the need to be prepared for potential violence, Det Insp Jackson says: “The people inside might think the officers are other drug dealers wanting to get inside for drugs and money.”
The vehicles pull up outside the target addresses and officers rapidly surround the two-storey building, with ops support setting to work on the grille as SOCU detectives knocking away all the drainpipes and waste pipes – a precaution against any attempts to flush away drugs or other evidence.
Shouts of ‘police’ go up as officers reach the top of the stairs, find one flat door unlocked and start to cut open the second door before the occupant appears. The detective carrying the warrants is then called in and a few minutes go by before the first suspect is led out by neighbourhood officers.
While he looks bewildered and goes quietly, the second – barefoot and topless having just been woken up – shouts constant abuse as he is led away.
As all this has been going on, part of the team has quickly peeled off to a third address round on St Wilfrids Garth after spotting a known associate turn up outside the flats and immediately make a phone call.
Back at the first addresses, police dogs are checking for any hidden drugs but it is immediately apparent that the intelligence was sound.
A pile of what appears to be spice sits on top of a set of children’s books on the cluttered entrance staircase and a dozen or so small plastic bags filled with the same substance have spilled from a gift bag knocked over near the doorway.
The searches at the three addresses will go on to uncover various weapons including a Samurai sword, a homemade knuckle duster and two stun guns – one disguised as a torch.
Officers will also seize spice worth Â£35,00, cannabis worth Â£2,000, around Â£5,000 in cash, five vehicles and suspected stolen goods including bottles of alcohol, which it is believed may have been given as payment.
Three men and two women were arrested on suspicion of various drugs offences and have been released under investigation, police said yesterday.
A fourth man, who is suspected of both drugs and weapons offences, remained in police custody last night.