Eighteen heroin and crack dealers have been jailed for a total of almost 60 years after a major police undercover operation targeting drugs gangs in Preston.
Following an escalation in violence on the city’s streets, which saw gunshots fired and rival drug dealers at war, Lancashire Constabulary mounted undercover Operation Arrow to disrupt the supply chain that was at the heart of the problem.
Each of those convicted was willing to sell Class-A drugs to an officer known only as “Walshy”, who posed as a drug addict.
Some peddled their deadly wares within clear view of schoolchildren, while some recruited friends and family to act as agents in their illicit business. Others simply shared their own stash with a man they believed was a fellow addict.
Throughout the summer of 2013 tensions between rival gangs spilled out across the city.
Groups from Avenham, Plungington and Meadow Street were locked in a bitter rivalry which saw gunshots fired and blood spilled.
Arrests were made, for offences ranging from minor assaults to attempted murder, but as many who were hurt or injured refused to give evidence, officers set out to target the single common factor: drugs.
As investigations took hold it became clear the violence which plagued Preston’s inner city communities was fuelled by the supply of heroin and crack cocaine.
Posing as a heroin addict, one officer, known only by the name of “Walshy” took to the streets of Preston to gather information and evidence which would disrupt the flow of class A drugs.
Acting on intelligence and observations, he made links with the drugs community in a bid to snare those dealing on street corners and public spaces across Preston.
Deals took place behind takeaways, outside bookmakers and even in clear view of a primary school playground.
Paul Brookwell, prosecuting, said: “The purchases that were made were recorded on camera or audio equipment which was disclosed to the defendant’s following arrest.
“The undercover officer acted as a person looking to purchase heroin and on occasion cocaine and in doing so mixed with members of the drug fraternity.”
In two three month periods, Walshy made dozens of contacts in the drugs fraternity and handed over hundreds in £10 and £20 deals, all of which were recorded on equipment and presented to the dealers following their arrest.
Faced with the evidence, each one admitted their guilt.
Now the unscrupulous world of street level dealing has come to light after Preston Crown Court heard the depths these dealers would sink to to peddle their deadly wares.
Within days of starting the operation, Walshy was buying drugs from the family home of Ismail and Sharifa Patel, in Ribbleton Avenue.
Both husband and wife have previous convictions for dealing in class A drugs with Ismail having served two prison sentences and Sharifa being handed a conditional discharge for her role in being concerned in the supply of heroin.
The couple sold heroin to the officer, separately and together on six occasions in November and January before a raid on the home they shared with their teenage children in April 2014 uncovered 15.9g of heroin and £307 cash hidden in a cup on a kitchen cabinet.
But that was not the end of this drug dealing couple’s enterprise.
Paul Brookwell, prosecuting, told the court in the months that followed, Walshy met up with Ismail Patel in Meadow Street, who told him he would be employing runners.
He was introduced to Patel’s son Samir, 24, and acquaintance Dilbag Singh, 32, Samir supplying heroin and Singh crack cocaine to the officer on at least two separate occasions each.
Throughout the investigation, Walshy spoke to street dealers and organised suppliers, handing over his phone number and arranging transactions.
He met homeless addicts willing to share their drugs with him and organised criminals running sophisticated businesses with vehicles and numerous mobile phones.
In many cases Walshy went looking for drugs but on many occasions dealers he had met would contact him, offering repeat business and advertising “fat sizes” of heroin and “iceberg sizes” of crack.
One shocking deal took place in broad daylight outside Grange Primary School in Ribbleton, where schoolchildren waved from the playground at Walshy as he waited to meet Andrew Shields, 20.
Two days earlier Shields sold drugs outside Grange Community Centre.
Many of the characters arrested in the swoop are no strangers to the criminal justice system.
Dilbag Singh returned to his old ways despite being shot in the neck in a drugs feud on St Paul’s Road in April 2008. Singh had 56 pellets removed from his body in hospital.
But even dicing with death was not enough to deter him returning to a life of crime.
DCI Steve Dowson, of Preston Police, said: “The sentences in this case have made the community safer by putting these criminals in prison.
“We will continue to put people who commit crimes such as this before the Courts.