Police and dealers vie for control of Camden Town after raids create “vacuum”
Drug dealers return to streets of NW1 just hours after 37 homes are raided
25 October, 2018 — By William McLennan
Officers in riot gear knocked down doors at homes across Camden and beyond
POLICE are fighting to reclaim control of Camden Town and stop a fresh wave of drug dealers filling a “vacuum” created by a series of early-morning raids that led to 25 men being charged with supplying cocaine, crack, heroin and cannabis.
The high-profile operation saw dozens of officers in riot gear knock down doors at 37 homes across London on Wednesday and Thursday last week, targeting those believed to be responsible for the trade of class-A and class-B drugs in an area that has a decades-long reputation as an open drugs market.
But dealers were back at Camden High Street and Camden Lock less than 36 hours after the suspects were wakened by the sound of a dozen officers piling into their homes.
The New Journal was twice offered drugs within five minutes on Friday afternoon. In one exchange, caught on tape, the pusher, having been told “no”, persists and tells our reporter: “I’ve got that proper, proper gear. Try before you buy.”
Officers have been posted at Camden Lock bridge – conducting what they refer to as “static patrols” – at various times this week, a move which appeared to have an impact on the number of people being propositioned.
The raids coincided with personnel changes that saw the neighbourhood policing team in Camden Town brought back to full strength for the first time in months.
Business owners in Inverness Street, who had complained that police and Camden Council had “lost control” of the area, have welcomed the latest action.
Michael McDermott, licensee at long-standing tapas restaurant Bar Gansa and Boho, said the arrests were “great news”, but added: “It’s probably too early to say what effect they will have long-term, but short-term if you pop down to Inverness Street, Buck Street and the Canal Bridge drug gangs were still dealing in exactly the same places [on Monday].”
The raids were the culmination of a seven-month undercover operation – codenamed Operation Atlas – that involved officers from Camden, alongside the Met’s Violence Reduction Taskforce and the anti-gang unit Trident.
The crackdown was intended to tackle drug supply and associated knife violence, which police believe is fuelled by competition between dealers.
It bore similar hallmarks to Operation Lighthouse, carried out in March 2016, which saw 14 homes targeted in dawn raids.
The 2016 operation was said to be aimed at a gang identified by police as “TMS” or “The Money Squad”. However, officers would not reveal the name of the organisation at the centre of last week’s raids.
In the intervening two years, knife crime has soared. In mid-2016, Camden maintained levels below what would have been expected of an inner-London borough, compared to neighbouring areas.
But by late-2017 the rate of stabbings in Camden had surpassed that of Islington, with police blaming gangs that had “disrupted what was quite a stable drugs market” in NW1.
Talking to the New Journal in the back of a police car before the sun rose on Thursday morning, Detective Superintendent Caroline Haines said: “It is disappointing that we are still tackling the Camden Lock area, particularly for the second time.”
She said police were working with the council to develop a “really clear strategy to tackle illegal drugs in Camden Market”. Alongside arrests, it would include “redesigning the area to make it less attractive for drug dealers”.
She said a “number of tactics” were being deployed to prevent drug gangs regaining control of Camden Lock, including an “overt policing presence” as well as officers “working proactively behind the scenes to prevent that from happening”.
She added: “We want Camden to be a safe place for people to come and visit and to live and to work in and to put the fear back into those drug dealers and gang members and those intent on committing violence. The message is: we will come for you and that’s what we’ve been doing today.”
Labour councillor Abdul Hai, who is cabinet member for “young people and cohesion”, commented on the raids in his professional role as director of community engagement at Camden Market.
He said he was “really pleased” action had been taken, but added: “The key thing for us is the vacuum that has been created. We need to make sure that is not filled up with more dealers.”
He said a visible police presence was needed to “reclaim the high street”.
Mark Neal, chair of the police-community liaison group Camden Town and Primrose Hill Safer Neighbourhoods Panel, said: “Operation Atlas is a welcome boost to the morale of this community after a merciless summer of gang violence. We are very grateful to our police for their phenomenal effort, which is that much more amazing after such prolonged and ongoing underfunding.”