Scotland Yard moves to smash major drugs gang

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The Independent Online

Scotland Yard today launched a series of dawn arrests aimed at smashing a drug gang believed to be the biggest ever to target Britain.

The Colombian-based cartel, which is believed to have been flooding the UK with cocaine for years, was targeted in a series of raids in both countries.

Police say they arrested key players and were so confident of success that they forecast a sharp rise in the street price of cocaine as supplies were hit.

A total of 23 raids were launched in London and up to another 25 in Colombia. They included the homes of suspects, and businesses used to launder drug money.

About 100 police officers were involved in this morning's raids in London, which were co-ordinated with the raids in Colombia. The cartel is said to have its base near Cali.

Most of those held in London were foreign nationals from South America but some had leave to remain.

They were living deliberately "low key" lifestyles to avoid attracting attention and some were women.

The cartel was hunted down by Scotland Yard's elite and secretive Special Projects Unit, whose existence was only made public last week.

The 30-strong team of crack detectives has been targeting the cartel for two years, after picking up intelligence of their operations in the UK.

During that time about 20 people have already been arrested and most charged with drugs and money laundering offences.

They were only minor players, but the arrests led to £20 million worth of cocaine seizures.

Other seizures have already been made by Customs and the National Crime Squad.

In today's raids police went after the "big players".

Detective Chief Superintendent Sharon Kerr, head of the Flying Squad, said: "It's the biggest drugs operation and cartel that has ever been seen in this country.

"If you look at the totality of it, it's enormous. It's huge.

"This was the final stage of an operation against an enduring, sophisticated and hard-to-penetrate criminal network.

"It's an example of how we can take out an entire criminal network from the top tier organisers right down to those who peddle drugs on the streets.

"These are the drugs that rip communities apart."

Penetrating the cartel was being seen as a coup for Scotland Yard after other law enforcement agencies failed to make headway.

Ms Kerr said: "No law enforcement agency ever has been able to penetrate this network.

"Often we have been nibbling around the edges, taking out the patsies, but not going to the heart of the network. It's very sophisticated."

Today's operation was led by Detective Chief Inspector Martin Molloy, head of the Special Projects Unit.

He said: "I think this will be extremely significant, it will be seen as a warning not to bring cocaine into the UK.

"It will have a massive impact on the price of cocaine in the UK."