A SCOTTISH town has been declared ‘drug dealer-free’ following an unprecedented crackdown involving scores of police officers.
More than 70 dealers - including four big-time ‘gangsters’ - have been swept off the streets of Stranraer in the zero tolerance campaign, codenamed Operation Emperor.
Police completely cleared the Galloway port of drug peddlers following complaints from residents that they were doing nothing.
It is thought to be the first time a Scottish police force have ‘blitzed’ every known dealer in a community and marks a significant departure from the policy of targeting major players in the drugs supply chain.
Up to 100 officers - 40 of them from neighbouring Strathclyde - spent 18 months on the operation.
The first six months were spent secretly gathering intelligence on the drugs supply network in Stranraer - including infiltration by undercover officers - to build up a ‘Who’s Who’ of dealers.
A series of raids was launched in October last year which, as well as scores of arrests, resulted in the recovery of heroin, Ecstasy, speed and cannabis worth 300,000.
Police sources say that Stranraer can presently be considered free of dealers because they have either been arrested or are keeping their heads down. A small number of ‘user/dealers’ - people who sell drugs to friends to support their own habit - is all that remains.
Detective superintendent Bill Gillis, head of CID at Dumfries and Galloway Police, said: "Police have been so heavily involved in enforcement that others [involved in drugs] will be keeping their heads down if they operate at all.
"Others contemplating being involved in that will be treading carefully.
"I think because Stranraer is such a small community and geographically where it is situated, some people felt they were untouchable. Stranraer had a considerable heroin problem for a while."
Detective chief inspector Brian Anderson, the head of CID in Stranraer, said the main aim of the operation was to stop the town’s four biggest dealers.
"We targeted them and also tried to take out their underlings, which I think we did," he said. "We also took out some of the dealers in South Ayrshire who were involved in the supply chain to solo-dealers in Stranraer.
"If drug dealing does go on, it’s more fragmented and easier to get into and prevent power bases being built up by fear and intimidation.
"The dealers that are still there tend to be dealing to support their own habit."
Anderson said the next challenge was to stop criminals from places such as Ayr and Dumfries moving in to fill the gap in the market.
He said: "It’s easy to have an operation and then say, ‘That’s it, well done folks.’ This has built up a momentum for us as a police force. We will continue to work on it and continue to make sure the public keep giving us information."
The results of Operation Emperor have been welcomed by residents of the town, which has a population of 12,000.
Penny Halliday, a mother-of-two who was born and bred in Stranraer, helped set up a support group for families of drug addicts called You’re Not Alone and was one of the organisers of a protest march in 2001 at the lack of police action.
She said: "People were virtually dealing in the street in front of you and we decided that enough was enough.
"We had been forgotten about so we organised a march. It started off with about 100 of us, but people started walking off the pavement to join the march and it finished up with about 300 people."
Halliday said the demonstration of public anger prompted police to act.
She said: "For a long time it appeared to the community that there were people who had a high profile and who were seen to be openly getting away with dealing.
"They were arrogant enough to think they were untouchable, but they have been arrested. Some of them were people who didn’t have a drug habit and were making a lot of money out of dealing."
The sudden lack of heroin and other drugs in Stranraer has forced many addicts to get help.
Tom McIntosh, manager of drugs charity Turning Point Scotland’s office in Stranraer, said there had been an increase in their work since the crackdown.
He said: "The police’s action has had an effect on supply and that has encouraged people to attend projects like this that provide crisis support. Police action like this can often lead to individuals on drugs being in crisis.
"What drug dealing still exists is at a much lower level. It’s now more about folk who need to deal to guarantee their own supply as opposed to folk making money out of it."
Alex Fergusson, the Tory MSP for Dumfries and Galloway, said: "There’s a huge difference in the atmosphere in the town. Seventy-two drug dealers in a place like Stranraer is an awful lot.
"The message is loud and clear: if you’re in the business of supplying drugs, Stranraer doesn’t want you, don’t come to Stranraer."
Shadow justice minister Michael Matheson said: "It would appear this operation has been highly successful and there may be lessons that other forces across Scotland can learn from it.
"But while many of these operations can have a short-term impact it’s important to maintain a high-profile in areas such as Stranraer in order to make sure drug dealers don’t find a way back in there to fill the vacuum."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "Operation Emperor is a great example of how police forces throughout Scotland are successfully targeting drug dealers in whichever area they operate."
Remarkably, even the relatives of some of those arrested have welcomed the action. One said: "You know when you are living with this in your family that sooner or later it’s got to come to a head.
"You know the person who is dealing to fund their habit is going to finish up in prison and in some ways when they are imprisoned you think, ‘Thank God, it’s over.’"
ON THE TRAIL OF THE PUSHERS
DRUG dealer Andrew McCredie was jailed for eight years in March after being caught by police who staked out a stash of drugs.
McCredie, 38, of Mount Vernon Road, Stranraer, was found with heroin worth about 70,000 after police were tipped off by a woman who suspected a lamp-post near her house was being used as a pick-up point for heroin hidden in crushed cigarette packets.
The court heard that a series of ‘dead drops’ were used to distribute heroin and that McCredie was the ‘controller’ of couriers who were sent to collect the drugs.
One witness took police to a tub of heroin - hidden off a track near Stranraer - which would have been worth 40,000 if sold on the street.
In February, Mark Allison, 26, and Robert Lamont, 33, both from Stranraer, were jailed for 12 and 10 years respectively at the High Court in Edinburgh.
Lamont, a chef on Irish Sea ferries, and car salesman Allison, admitted being concerned in the supply of heroin.
Undercover police arranged to meet Lamont and Allison in a hotel car park in Glasgow and there arrested them.
Four others from Stranraer were also jailed.