The single act of violence which brought down a major drug gang in Dereham
- Credit: Archant
On March 23 Matthew Xavier was jailed for 12 years for a brutal attack on two drug addicts that owed him just £200. Reporter STEVE SHAW looks at how this conviction marks the final chapter in a two year operation that brought down one of the biggest drug gangs in mid NorfolK...
It was the early hours of the morning and two men were sat in a car parked outside Jollyes pet food store in Yaxham Road in Dereham when a man caught their attention.
The pair were waiting to buy crack cocaine and watched as Ashley Lloyd, 30, walked towards them.
They hadn't noticed that Matthew Xavier, 60, was approaching the car from the other direction. He pulled open the car door and began a brutal and bloody assault, using a pair of scissors and a screwdriver.
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One of the men managed to escape but was stabbed in the lower back. The other was dragged into a nearby alleyway, where he pleaded for his life before being punched and stabbed.
They survived the attack on September 17, 2016, but it was a shocking act of violence for a Norfolk market town that has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.
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It was also the crime that brought down the leader of one of mid Norfolk's biggest drug gangs.
'Dereham has always had drug issues,' said the chief inspector of Breckland Police, Paul Wheatley.
'That has been ongoing for many years but what we really worry about is when violence relating to drugs starts to appear. We began to see an increase of that in Dereham.'
In early 2016, Class A drugs were flowing onto the streets of Dereham and being dealt by people working for Xavier.
He had established an organised crime group that was made up of at least a dozen people in the town ranging from low end drug dealers, who would be paid with bags of heroin, to transporters and enforcers.
The drugs would often come from crime groups in London and be transported into Norfolk.
Xavier's network became so prevalent that Dereham inspector Jon Papworth saw fit to launch an operation - referred to as Op Bat - dedicated to taking it down.
Insp Papworth said this group was made up of suspects local to Norfolk separating it from Operation Gravity, an operation launched in November 2016 to tackle London drug gangs who funnel crack and heroin into Norfolk. This is commonly referred to as county lines.
The brief for the officers in Dereham was to gather intelligence and dismantle Xavier's organisation.
'We find out what they are doing, how they are doing it and what our tactical options are for disrupting and dismantling their activity,' said Insp Papworth.
His team started by following the money and using a key piece of legislation, known as the Proceeds of Crime Act. This allows police to recover any money that has been earned as a result of, or in connection with, an offence.
'Using the Proceeds of Crime Act, we could find out what we could get back and Matthew Xavier owed an awful lot of money, so that was really good for us,' he said.
'We could go in, make him pay, get warrants and make arrests. They weren't driving around in Rolls Royces and you wouldn't think to look at them that they were dripping in gold or anything like that.
'They were making the fatal mistake of taking what they sold, which is always a slippery slope.'
Along with asset seizures, officers were gathering intelligence and using it to obtain warrants and execute raids across the town. Gradually they pulled apart the organisation.
'We put a lot of pressure on him and his network and we were getting information and intelligence to say that drugs were drying up in Dereham,' Insp Papworth continued.
'When that happens there is a good chance that you are either going to get a new gang moving in or he is going to start enforcing his debts and that is what that stabbing on Yaxham Road related to – he was enforcing his debts.'
Xavier and Lloyd were arrested shortly after the stabbing, and on March 23, 2018, they were sentenced at Norwich Crown Court.
The court heard how Xavier had also attempted to use a prison phone to get friends and family to intimidate witnesses in the case and these calls had been recorded.
Xavier pleaded guilty to two counts of causing grievous bodily harm and one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice between September 23, 2016 and January 31, 2017. He was jailed for 12 years.
He has 55 previous convictions for 105 offences, dating back to the 1970s.
Lloyd who purposely acted as a distraction in the assault allowing Xavier to surprise the two victims, was sentenced to three years and nine months.
Operation Bat was formally closed in July 2017 but for the police, the battle to stop the spread of drugs is far from over.
'Drugs are all over Norfolk,' said Insp Wheatley. 'Every town has got a drug culture in it and the dealers are dependant on the people who are dependant on them. It is for us to disrupt them as much as possible.
'We know there is going to be a gap in the market in Dereham and there is going to be people trying to take over. That is when we have to be more active. If you leave it alone, that is when it becomes out of control.'