Drug dealers swept away; POLICE CRACKDOWN.
THEY thought they were the "untouchables" - but these street-level drug dealers who held an inner-city Birmingham community in a grip of fear and intimidation have discovered that crime does not pay.
They were among 92 people arrested by police in an unprecedented blitz to sweep the scourge of drugs from the streets of Aston and Lozells.
The operation has already seen 149 years worth of jail sentences handed out to dealers who thought they could peddle heroin and cocaine with impunity.
Police chiefs said today that they had now been able to "give the community back to its residents".
Operation Clean aimed to stamp out the drugs trade which had left law-abiding families afraid to go out in areas inextricably linked with crime.
Detectives spent 12 months working undercover watching street corners, telephone kiosks and alleyways where drug deals were done, patiently gathering the evidence against suspects.
In March last year, the first targets were given a rude awakening as police smashed into their homes and showed the 'untouchables' no one was beyond the law.
Two more phases followed in September and December as police rounded up every identified dealer in the area.
The operation was aided by socalled crack house closures where police can board up houses used as drug shooting galleries and help was also offered for addicts to kick their habit.
By the end of the year, 75 homes had been raided and 92 people arrested.
Of those 47 have been handed jail sentences totalling 149 years.
But more importantly, said Chief Sup Paul Scarrott, from Thornhill Road police, street level drug dealing had been eradicated from the area.
"These areas had long-standing drugs issues and were renowned as places where you easily buy drugs," he said.
"People said they couldn't go out without worrying about drug dealers.
The scale of the problem required a significant response."
He added: "I think the dealers probably felt they were untouchable.
But what we have shown them with this operation is that they are not."
Recounting one community meeting, Chief Supt Scarrott recalled the comments of one resident who said they always locked their car doors when driving along Lozells Road, such was the atmosphere of dread and intimidation.
"People don't have to do that any more," he added.
Such has been the impact of the operation that drug dealing, once the residents' number one concern, was no longer an issue reported at public meetings.
It has also had a knock-on effect with so-called fear crimes of robbery, burglary and car theft that cause most worry among the public, down by as much as 20 per cent. At public meetings, officers received standing ovations for the crackdown.
Chief Supt Scarrott said it had also "empowered" the community to come forward with information.
One dealer who tried to fill the void left by the operation was nabbed within minutes after a passer - by alerted the police.
"In the roads and streets where people, live work and shop people can now go about their lives without fear of intimidation and let their children play out without worry that they could fall into drugs.
"I'm confident we'll never let it go back to the way it was."
Chief Supt Tom Coughlan, from Queens Road police added: "The success means we've prevented potentially thousands of deals reaching the streets, and prevented real harm.
"Dealers who previously ignored the law and showed no respect for their community are now serving prison sentences where they will no longer be of harm.
"We want local people to know that we are determined to take the ground away from drug dealers and to return the streets to the community."
NATHAN CALDER.; ISHFAQ AFSAR.; JABRAN GHALIB.; ANJUM AMIN.; HOSAIR MOHAMED.; FITZROY BLACKWOOD.; DONAVAN HINDS.; CHRISTOPHER BARRETT.; MOHAMMED HASSAN.; YAMEL BARNNETT; GARY HALL.; ASHFAQ KHAN.; WAJID HUSAIN.; NAWAZ HUSSAIN.; MOHAMMED JAMIL.; ASGAR KHALFE.; KHALID HUSAIN.; REHAN KHAN.; KEMAL LINCOLN.; IKHLAQ MOHAMMED.; MUSHTAQ HUSSAIN.; ABID NAZIR.; PHILLIP REID.; STANLEY REID; COLIN REID.; TACUMBA WHEELER.; HUGH SCOTT.; JASON WHITE.; KERRY WOLLASTON.; MOHAMMED YOUNIS.; MUDASSER ZUBIER.; HEROIN CLAMPDOWN... police force entry into a carpet warehouse in Lozells where they suspected drug dealers had been operating. Pictures Emma Lee; DETERMINED EFFORT... (from left) police officers are briefed before a raid in Aston, a detective gets into a locked car, and a suspect is arrested in Lozells.