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Police storm suspected drugs den in early-morning Finsbury Park raid

PUBLISHED: 18:58 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:28 03 June 2019

Police use a rapid entry team to gain access to a property during a Section 23 drugs warrant on May 17, 2019. Picture: Polly Hancock

Police use a rapid entry team to gain access to a property during a Section 23 drugs warrant on May 17, 2019. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Police used a battering ram to smash their way into a family home and suspected drugs den in Finsbury Park this morning

Police use a rapid entry team to gain access to a property during a Section 23 drugs warrant on  May 17, 2019. Picture: Polly HancockPolice use a rapid entry team to gain access to a property during a Section 23 drugs warrant on May 17, 2019. Picture: Polly Hancock

Officers from different areas were mustered to raid the terraced property - and a suspected dealer was arrested.

The Gazette tagged along for the drugs bust, learning more about the frontline fight to stamp out narcotic sales and anti-social behaviour in the ward. It was an operation that relied on stealth and efficiency, and everything went smoothly - once the officers eventually found a parking space the van could fit into, that is.

"This is what I would describe as business as usual for us," said Insp Chris Couling. "Based on intelligence, we will target people who we believe are involved in crimes. Drug dealing is a massive draw for antisocial behaviour.

"We are in the process of targeting drug antisocial behaviour, drug crime and knife crime. We have a fine line about telling [the public] what we do and not telling criminals what we do. One of the issues we have is staffing."

Inspector Chris Couling May 17,  2019. Picture: Polly HancockInspector Chris Couling May 17, 2019. Picture: Polly Hancock

Bleary-eyed neighbours awakened by the splintering door wandered over to watch what was going on. More than 10 police officers were upstairs searching the house, while a six-year-old child was cowering under the duvet covers, we were told.

"To prove someone has possession with intent to supply drugs is difficult and expensive," Insp Couling added. "Resources is a big thing and custody space

- but from my point of view, quick wins send a strong message."

Officers recovered multiple bags of cannabis, some cash and two cheap phones, not unlike the "burners" often used for dealing.

Police raid a property during a Section 23 drugs warrant on May 17, 2019. Stan the Police sniffer dog arrives to search for cash, drugs and gun. Picture: Polly HancockPolice raid a property during a Section 23 drugs warrant on May 17, 2019. Stan the Police sniffer dog arrives to search for cash, drugs and gun. Picture: Polly Hancock

Insp Couling said that even lower level drugs busts can "help for the longer battle" as messages and contacts in phones can link to suppliers, potentially helping police teams higher up the chain.

Central government cuts have seen some 20,000 police jobs axed since 2010, including 300 coppers lost in Islington,

"Let's face it," Insp Couling added. "Ten bags of cannabis going to the lab is not as important as trying to find blood on a knife or a block of cocaine.

"What we really need is to be like CSI: they solve it all in an hour.

Police hold eveidence bags obtained from a Section 23 drugs warrant in N7 on May 17, 2019. Bags contain cash, burner phones and cannabis. Pictures: Polly HancockPolice hold eveidence bags obtained from a Section 23 drugs warrant in N7 on May 17, 2019. Bags contain cash, burner phones and cannabis. Pictures: Polly Hancock

"If we had all the Pcs and sergeants in the world we would go after everybody."

She urged the community to provide the police with intelligence so they can continue to tackle drug dealing in the area.

Boots on the ground

Pc Charles Mutuk told the Gazette: "We have to buy our own boots. They [Met Police] used to provide them but not any more.

"They provide uniforms, shirts and gloves - but the quality of the gloves is so poor you get your own.

"I have been in the job for 15 years, and at the beginning there were so many things - but as time has gone on and money has disappeared or dried up you have to work more efficiently.

"My colleagues before me, in the '90s, [were given] flats and places to stay. It's changing times. Everyone's got squeezed and all these things disappeared."

Pc Mutuk explained that since 2017 the Met Police have introduced a new safety policy, meaning each vehicle must carry a defibrillator. Officers are often the first responders - and Pc Mutuk says cops are as increasingly administering first aid to stab victims.

He said: "With the changing times and knife crime being at such a severe point we have to react in a way that saves as many lives as possible.

"Most of us just do it and get on with it but it's monitored and there is debriefing when someone has gone above and beyond the ordinary."

Shortly afterwards, a man cycled past and shouted: "Keep us safe. We love you."

Pc Lynch said he'd expected the man to shout something abusive. He said cops sometimes have a "warped view" of what people think of them, as the "cross-section" of the public they generally deal with is people who have committed a crime.

Where are the police dogs?

Once officers searched the house, they waited for a sniffer dog to arrive.

"Unfortunately," said Pc Middleton, "as with resources in general, there aren't that many available dogs."

"We don't have enough police dogs full stop," added Insp Couling. "They are such a good tool in our box but we don't have enough. They have been reduced in numbers."

Stan, the in-demand police sniffer dog, soon arrived on the scene, eager to break the case.

And his handler Pc Neil Tibbly told the Gazette: "This morning there are only two or three sniffers for the whole of London."

He explained that London is split into quarters in terms of dog deployment - and, on average, there are four or five German Shepherds, used for keeping "public order", available in a quarter at any given time.

Extra cops?

In March, the Gazette reported an announcement made by the Met Police and Islington Council at a safer neighbourhood meeting that seven extra cops had been introduced to Finsbury Park. But Insp Couling says the reinforcements she needs haven't quite materialised, yet.

"We will have more officers," she said. "I can't give exact numbers right now because a lot of them are still in training right now. But we are getting more cops - I would love to say 15 [new officers]."

She said the seven aforementioned reinforcements would have technically been available but "other requirements", such as the mass climate protests organised by Extinction Rebellion, saw them moved out of the borough.

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