CHESHIRE Police spearheaded a series of early morning raids today targeting organised crime groups suspected of exploiting vulnerable people to deal drugs.

More than 340 officers were involved in the high-profile operation this morning (Thursday, December 14) with 12 houses targeted in Widnes and 18 in Merseyside.

So far, officers have arrested 28 people on suspicion of conspiracy to supply class A drugs. All are currently in custody helping police with their enquiries.

The strike also saw seven crack house closures being carried out in Widnes – a record for the force in one day.

Today’s operation is the result of a six-month investigation, carried out by Cheshire Police and supported Merseyside Police, TITAN and the National Crime Agency, in partnership with Halton Council and partner organisations across Halton. It focused on the activities of a number of people suspected of using vulnerable people to sell Class A drugs.

Detective Superintendent Aaron Duggan, Head of Crime at Cheshire Police, said: “The action taken today, comes after months of hard work by a dedicated team of officers to gather evidence and intelligence in connection with a number of organised crime groups suspected of not only supplying drugs within the local community, but exploiting vulnerable people in order to do so.

“Our investigation has been distinctive as it centres on vulnerable adults and children who have been targeted to deliver and deal drugs. We have worked closely with partner agencies to safeguard these vulnerable people. In these cases, the victims will suffer greatly by taking all the risks and facing the consequences if caught and arrested, while the organised crime groups reap the rewards and believe they can avoid detection.

“We rely heavily on help from the community in identifying and investigating this type of crime and I want to urge residents in local communities to play their part and look out for their neighbours by knowing how to spot if someone is being coerced, exploited and taken advantage of, or their home is being used by people involved in selling illegal drugs.

If you have any information that may assist, please ring Cheshire Police on 101, alternatively you can ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

Police & Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, David Keane said: “It’s so tragic that we have vulnerable people of all ages becoming victim to these despicable people. Life is already hard for them, and to see that they are being targeted by drug dealers who abuse them and make their lives a misery is heart-breaking. It makes me angry to think this is going on in our county, so to see the work with our regional forces and local authorities today to stop the rot and free people from their suffering is really reassuring. I will be keeping a close eye on our progress in stamping out the abuse of our vulnerable communities by criminal gangs.”

Specialist officers were used to gain entry to the properties this morning and officers, who are experts in search techniques, are now carrying out detailed inspections of all the addresses.

The warrants were executed following a dawn briefing in which Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey acknowledged the work undertaken as part of the operation.

Local officers will remain in the areas affected to provide reassurance to the local community and anyone with any issues or concerns is urged to speak directly to an officer.