Dawn raid pulls in 2,300 burglary suspects

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The biggest combined police operation ever carried out in Britain saw at least pounds 1.5m of stolen property recovered in dawn raids on the homes of 3,700 suspected burglars yesterday.

Twelve-thousand officers - one-tenth of the police in England and Wales - made more than 2,300 arrests in the giant swoop, codenamed Operation Christmas Cracker.

Among the finds were a pounds 10,000 speedboat in landlocked Kidderminster, which also emerged as the home of an illegal factory manufacturing the drug known as "skunk weed". Firearms with 20 rounds of ammunition were seized in Nottinghamshire and Hereford police were last night caring for two fully grown exotic iguanas.

Co-ordinated by the West Mercia police, the offensive was timed to beat Christmas sprees by burglars who take advantage of rich pickings in households stocking up with presents, food and drink.

As the arrests mounted, David Blakey, West Mercia's Chief Constable, issued a warning to thieves: "You are now a prime target for police. If you continue to commit crime, you are running a greater risk than ever before that you will be caught and brought to justice."

The blitz followed several weeks of talks between 40 forces and capitalised on the previous success of initiatives such as Operation Bumblebee which have made tackling burglary a priority in response to public demand. South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire chose to continue with existing anti-burglary operations.

Mr Blakey said the aim was to "strike a resounding blow against these criminals who bring misery and to transfer fear from potential victims to the burglars themselves".

Many of those arrested, including not only suspected burglars, will be bailed by police stations and be back on the streets within hours, but strict conditions will be placed on their behaviour.

A substantial haul of heroin was found in Dorset and counterfeit banknotes in South Wales. In Cambridgeshire, one man was arrested as a result of a DNA profile and a missing 16-year-old was found at a house in Devon and Cornwall and returned to parents. Almost 140 pirate videos and computer games worth pounds 88,000 were found in Brentwood, Essex.

Merseyside Police, which made 84 arrests, found a lock-up garage in Crosby contained pounds 37,000 of goods, including the components to build a conservatory.

Two constables were injured chasing a suspect who escaped in Hertfordshire and a man with a knife broke an arm and leg jumping from a third-floor window in west London. He was detained in Hillingdon Hospital.

In the capital, where 343 people were arrested at 794 addresses, Assistant Commissioner Ian Johnston stressed the value of co-operation. An earlier operation had found property stolen in Kent in Cornwall, for example.

The Prime Minister congratulated the police. "There is no doubt that over the last couple of years innovative policing methods have made a distinct impact on the level of crime."

Last year nearly 680,000 domestic burglaries were reported in England and Wales with a 22.6 per cent detection rate.