As the war on drugs continues across the town, reporter Rob Alderson joins police for a series of raids on suspected suppliers
IT’S a bitterly cold Monday morning in the run up to Christmas and thoughts are turning to festive plans - where to go, what to buy. But for a group of people whose business is not seasonal - those who supply heroin and crack cocaine in Hastings and St Leonards - their Christmas plans are about to take a turn for the worse.
At Hastings Police Station on Bohemia Road, Chief Inspector Mark Ling is quietly looking forward to the day ahead.
“This operation has lasted six months, we have made detailed enquiries and we are now in a position to strike,” he said.
The drugs team have been working on this case since May, and have 26 people on their list to round up. In fact the process has already started, circumstances mean some people had to be brought in early. The word is out and a senior officer tells me several solicitors have been on the phone asking if their clients can expect a knock on the door. They are about to find out.
Last Monday was the busiest day in a series of operations named Tyland and Minton. After a short briefing, teams of officers are sent out to round up the suspects. The mood in the van is jovial but focused - the one thing they don’t want to find is a dog. First port of call is a top floor flat on Mount Pleasant Road and the speed at which the officers get into the flat is astonishing. They have a bettering ram but it’s not needed - as often happens a landlord has provided them with a key. The man they are looking for isn’t there, but he can’t have been gone long as their is a load of washing in the machine. It’s not a wasted trip though, this man has no bed and instead has a room full of cannabis plants with heating and lighting equipment.
Next it’s onto a flat in Magdalen Road, St Leonards. Again they are in the building within seconds much to the bemusement of a naked couple still in bed. After checking for needles a police dog is sent in to search, and its handler tells me how meticulous they have to be. He shows me a set of scales hidden in a CD cover. “They get more ingenious and we have to keep on their tails,” he said.
After this we are off to check a few addresses on spec. The van cruises through St Leonards but there’s no luck at the first two flats we try. Then it’s on to Milward Road where a suspect’s girlfriend is believed to live. The officers don’t think he’ll be there but decide to knock the door just on the off chance. Jackpot - he’s there and is duly arrested. I am struck by how low key it all is - he is cooperative, even friendly, and the officers are calm and controlled.
Sgt Dan Boxall laughs when I express my surprise. “My dad says I pay my taxes so I don’t have to see what you see, so I don’t have to deal with it but it’s not like you see on the television. The majority of policing is very calm. What we do is important but it’s not dramatic.
“The war against drugs is very difficult, because it’s very difficult to ever win. We will get rid of some of the players today and that will have an impact for a while but someone else will step in.”
Back at the nick there’s a feeling of a job well done. More than 20 of the people on the list have been rounded up, the rest will follow over the next few days. The long process of interviews and court appearances is only just beginning, but Chief Inspector Ling looks very satisfied
“A number of people will now be spending Christmas behind bars - the message is ‘If you are supplying drugs we will be after you’.”