EARLY morning police raids saw nearly 200 officers take part in one of Durham Constabulary’s biggest ever drug crackdowns.

At about 7.30am this morning, teams of officers simultaneously swooped on 21 properties across Darlington and Newton Aycliffe.

The operation resulted in the arrests of ten men and four women, aged between 24 and 48-years-old.

As part of the operation a further two men were arrested in Birmingham by Durham Constabulary officers, with the support of West Midlands Police, in connection with a County Lines investigation.

All were detained on suspicion of the supply or Class A drugs or being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.

Temporary Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Lawrence, from Durham Constabulary, said: “This is one of the biggest operations of its kind that we have carried out and we are delighted with the results.

“This morning’s raids are the culmination of months of hard work and investigation which would not have been possible without the support of the community.

“I hope today’s action sends out a clear message that we will not tolerate criminality of this nature in our force area, and we will continue to take action to dismantle, disrupt and destroy these networks.”

Following this morning’s activity, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) are being deployed to the areas around the target properties to provide reassurance and answer any questions residents may have.

The raids formed part of Operation Sentinel - a joined initiative with neighbouring police forces tasked with disrupting and preventing organised crime.

Darlington Borough Council’s deputy leader Chris McEwan and Councillor Helen Crumbie attended the raids.

The Northern Echo: Durham Constabulary Chief Constable Mike Barton at drugs raids in Darlington as part of Operation SentinelDurham Constabulary Chief Constable Mike Barton at drugs raids in Darlington as part of Operation Sentinel

Speaking at a raid in Darlington, Durham Constabulary Chief Constable Mike Barton said: "This is part of Operation Sentinel.

"All the North-East forces have combined to deal with organised crime and particularly county lines and urban gangs coming out into provincial towns like Darlington so they can sell drugs and deal in death in a very violent way.

"It's really important that all the forces combine with the National Crime Agency to make sure we're hitting this world nationwide. 

"We're here in Darlington but simultaneously down in Birmingham there are a couple of arrest warrants being conducted there.

"We know that some of the dealing here in Darlington is being conducted from Birmingham.

The Northern Echo: Officers make an arrest during drugs raids in Darlington as part of Operation Sentinel. Picture: Georgia BanksOfficers make an arrest during drugs raids in Darlington as part of Operation Sentinel. Picture: Georgia Banks

"The scale of the problem of drug addiction and drug dealing across the UK is a real scourge.

"In my 39 years in policing, the amount of heroin that is being produced in Afghanistan has gone up 100-fold.

"There are now 9,200 tons of heroin produced in Afghanistan. In Europe, Britain imports most of that. That has to have an impact. 

Sadly, there are far too many people who are addicted to heroin and frankly I don't think we're doing enough to break that cycle of addiction.

"We've got to make sure drug addicts, and particulary drug dealers are arrested but there needs to be a rethink about how we tackle addiction.

"It's been proven time and time again that heroin assisted treatment is the best way to deal with people that are addicted to heroin, and yet here we are still serving up Methadone. That might work for a minority but a third of all the drug addicts in my county are topping up with street heroin.

"I'm a strong advocate of heroin assisted treatment. That might not be the total answer but I do think it will stem the tide that little bit more. We need to have a grown up debate about it."

Inspector Chris Knox, from Darlington Neighbourhood Police Team, said: “We have attended 18 addresses in County Durham and Darlington.

“I think class A drugs are available in all areas now, so the problem is a concern for everybody.

“We get little bits of intelligence from community members which is how the operation has come about. We build on that intelligence and strike once we have the evidence to secure prosecution.

“The operation has been conducted as a result of community intelligence and I would urge the community to continue to reports such concerns to either the police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555111.”