Police use digger in £100m drugs raid

POLICE used a mechanical digger today to smash into the luxury home of one of the suspected kingpins of a £100 million cocaine empire.Officers swarmed inside after a hole was smashed in a wall surrounding the fortified £3 million property in Hayes, west London.

POLICE used a mechanical digger today to smash into the luxury home of one of the suspected kingpins of a £100 million cocaine empire.

Officers swarmed inside after a hole was smashed in a wall surrounding the fortified £3 million property in Hayes, west London.

The dawn raid was one of more than two dozen executed simultaneously at homes and businesses across London and the Home Counties.

Detectives said the operation, which involved more than 500 officers, targeted one of the UK's biggest cocaine and cannabis rings.

Eighteen people were arrested and more than 30 homes and business properties searched as police targeted the heads of a criminal network.

The raids followed more than six months of surveillance and information-gathering by Scotland Yard's elite specialist intelligence section.

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Police targeted the heads of several well-established gangs who came together to create a "clearing house" to launder drug profits.

Detectives said some of the men lived lives of luxury similar to Premier League footballers, driving sports cars, frequenting London's best restaurants and jet-setting around the world.

Detective Superintendent Steve Richardson, who was responsible for the operation, said the raids were the final blow to dismantle the network.

He revealed that more than 20 people had been arrested prior to today, causing "chaos' within the gang.

Police have also already seized almost £3 million in cash, 70kg (155lb) of cocaine with a street value of £500,000 and four guns, including one with a silencer.

Mr Richardson said criminals laundered more than £100 million of drug money through a network of foreign exchange bureaus and other financial businesses.

But their success at selling drugs created problems with the quantity of money they were forced to handle.

As a result, members would exchange suitcases full of 500 euro (£375) banknotes, the world's highest value note.

The cash, now in more manageable smaller and lighter packages, would then be taken to Europe and invested in property and bank accounts.

Police said the gang used a taxi business, based in a shabby corrugated iron and breezeblock building, as their headquarters.

Officers said up to £4 million passed through the innocuous taxi company every week as it also operated as a legitimate business.

Police refused to say where in the world the cocaine and cannabis were imported from, but said the supply was sold on across the UK.

Speaking about the use of the digger, Mr Richardson said: "We want to go into properties as quickly as possible to ensure no evidence is destroyed.

"If it takes us 15 to 20 minutes to get into a property, you can imagine how computer hard drives and other evidence could be wiped.'

As the raids took place, police moved to freeze bank accounts and access to properties across mainland Europe.

Among those arrested were men with British, Israeli, Iraqi, Egyptian and Irish backgrounds. All of the gang were resident in the UK.

Officers recovered a "substantial quantity' of what they believe is cocaine, cash and several firearms, including an antique handgun.

Police officers set out from bases in Twickenham, Hayes, Willesden and Catford on the dawn raids.

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