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A city with a drug problem - Norwich becomes front line in drug war after 500 arrests

PUBLISHED: 11:21 20 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:43 20 April 2018

Police officers ram a door to gain entry at a property in Orchard Street, Norwich, as part of Operation Cayman searching for class A drugs. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Police officers ram a door to gain entry at a property in Orchard Street, Norwich, as part of Operation Cayman searching for class A drugs. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2018

Norwich has a drug problem.

Police officers make arrests in Operation Cayman searching for class A drugs in a raid in Orchard Street, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPolice officers make arrests in Operation Cayman searching for class A drugs in a raid in Orchard Street, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

With more than 20 gangs operating in the city and one of the highest rates of death from heroin in the country, police are getting more reports of “overt drug dealing”.

More than 500 people have been arrested in Norfolk over the last 16 months over county line dealing, yet still more people are reporting drugs in their area.

And according to recent figures the city has 4.1 deaths out of every 100,000 people from heroin misuse, 23rd highest of 249 local authority areas.

This week the Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) responded with one of the largest drug operations Norfolk Constabulary has ever undertaken - Operation Cayman.

Briefing around 40 officers on Monday morning, DS Steve Mattin, head of SOCU, said they expected the new operation to “yield significant numbers”.

Morning raids began on Monday and by Thursday afternoon 33 people had been arrested after 17 raids across Norfolk and London. 21 of those have since been charged for Class A drug offences.

MORE: “A miserable existence” - the drug addicts drawn into criminality

There are other casualties. A 31-year-old man was released by police executing a warrant on Orchard Street after they strip searched him and checked his phone.

The briefing for Operation Cayman as police plan raids searching for class A drugs in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe briefing for Operation Cayman as police plan raids searching for class A drugs in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Two days later he was back at the property looking for a fix, but found it empty and boarded up.

He says he has been a heroin addict for the last four years - since the death of his mother - and now struggles to break the habit.

“I basically went off the rails,” he said. “She was the only person I really answered to, and the one I wanted to be proud of me.

“I was round a friends and they happened to be crack [and] heroin [users]. I started then.”

The man said he has looked for help from the Trust Alcohol And Drug Service but there is “too much drugs” in the city.

One of the occupants at a property in Orchard Street, Norwich, in handcuffs during police raids in Operation Cayman searching for class A drugs. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYOne of the occupants at a property in Orchard Street, Norwich, in handcuffs during police raids in Operation Cayman searching for class A drugs. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“It is everywhere,” he said. “It is on every single street corner. I could name you 30 dealers in Norwich.

“I have been trying to get off it because I know it’s not really a good thing. It is hard because of the people you are with. To stop you need to cut off all your friends, and everyone knows everyone. There’s so many dealers in the city.”

He added he has seen “horrific” violence, including a machete attack at Clifton Close.

“It was a runner,” he said. “He turned his phone off and started smoking all the drugs and the main man came down with a machete. It happens all the time but you lot never hear about it.”

His supply of drugs has been disrupted after the week of raids, aimed at stifling the trade once more.

The machete found during a search of a property in Derby Street, Norwich, as part of Operation Cayman looking for class A drugs. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe machete found during a search of a property in Derby Street, Norwich, as part of Operation Cayman looking for class A drugs. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

MORE: “Tackling the drugs supply is an endless battle” - neighbours lives made hell by dealers

One officer in the drugs squad, who cannot be identified, has been helping build intelligence for the last seven months for Op Cayman.

He said he believes drug dealers and users had become “too comfortable” in Norwich.

“We have got a massive problem with drugs at the minute which is leading to violence,” he said.

“These people are equipping themselves with weapons and knives and other crimes such as burglaries are creeping up. Drug users are vulnerable because they are drug users, and are quite an easy target because they depend on it.

“We have got a good 20 plus drug dealer gangs that operate within our city. That group could have just two people running for it, or it could have 10. I think we are smart enough now to understand these people are involved in crime but might not necessarily be criminals.

“They could have been trafficked or be under some sort of duress. The people we are interested in are the people getting the income. The reason that is difficult is they normally sit in quite a comfortable location out of our county and kept separate. People in Norwich won’t have spoken to or seen that person.

“With this operation we are hoping we can go as high as we can in that business.”

Police are not alone. City residents are joining the fight.

In Mancroft ward, the newly formed Russell Street Community Area Residents Association is increasingly concerned about drugs.

Chair Jane Watkin said it is the “number one topic” at their meetings.

“On our litter picks we regularly find used needles, and one picker saw someone in the bin areas injecting straight into his neck,” she said.

“A lot of people are scared. The dealers can be very intimidating. They do what they do to earn money but there are vulnerable people on the streets.

“The whole situation is just dreadful.

“We have got quite a lot of work to do but we have all got to be responsible for what goes on in the area.”

Anyone with information about illegal drugs activity should contact Norfolk Constabulary on 101.

Anyone needing help and support can also contact Norfolk Alcohol and Drug Behaviour Change Service, from Change, Grow, Live, on 01603 514096.

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