Organised crime networks are being systematically dismantled member by member thanks to a multi-agency operation.
Under the banner of Operation Challenger, the multi-agency operation was set up with support from the Government to target the criminal networks and families in the communities of Tameside and north and east Manchester.
With more than 300 arrests, £2m worth of property seized, more than £300,000 worth of drugs recovered and £650,000 worth of restraint orders since October 2012, the operation is making it virtually impossible for criminal networks to operate in these communities.
The team initially targeted 28 key individuals associated with the main criminal networks, and all but a handful have either been arrested and charged or are on bail.
Operation Challenger builds on the work that Greater Manchester Police and partner agencies have done over the past few years to tackle organised criminality across the city, which in the past 12 months has seen offenders jailed for a total of 1,566 years and more than £25m worth of drugs seized.
Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Greater Manchester is a safe place to live, but there are some abhorrent individuals who think they can weave a web of organised criminality to instil fear into our communities. But the conviction of Cregan and his cohorts for the brutal murders of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, and Mark and David Short – along with the ongoing work of the police, local councils and other agencies involved in Operation Challenger – sends a clear message of hope that people who think they are ‘hard men’ will be hunted down and brought to book.
“We can only keep up the pressure on these so-called Mr Bigs with the help of the local community and I want to thank the decent, law-abiding people of Tameside and North and East Manchester, for their help and support in dismantling these gangs. Only by standing together can we can defeat these animals and build safer communities.”
Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy said: “The investigation into the murders of Fiona, Nicola and the Short family revealed a far-reaching web of organised criminality and extreme violence which had to be tackled.
“The historic rivalry between criminal factions fighting over reputation and territory and creating alternative systems of justice was the spark that led to the tragic events we saw last year.
“Over the past few years, we have made huge strides towards tackling organised crime. Millions of pounds worth of drugs have been seized and more than 1,500 years of jail time handed out to offenders.
“However, we know there are still criminal networks causing misery to certain communities so Operation Challenger seeks to build on our successes and permanently tackle these organised crime groups.”
Greater Manchester Police and its partners had already seen excellent results in the fight against organised crime with the use of high-impact raids combined with a focus on neighbourhood policing to encourage residents to work with police. This has included innovative use of gang injunctions to impose strict conditions on those who associate themselves with criminal groups.
The Challenger team can widen their investigation into every area of a criminal’s life – such as their business interests, properties, benefits, associates as well as their involvement in drug dealing and smuggling firearms to identify illegal activity.
With the ability to bring dozens of agencies together instantly, those agencies are now better equipped to share information and intelligence and use their powers to make it difficult for these criminals to operate, which includes arrests, freezing their assets, evicting them from their homes, seizing their cars or stopping their benefits.
In terms of the number of agencies from across the UK involved, Operation Challenger is the country’s biggest multi-agency response to organised crime. However, the main emphasis of the operation is within the hearts of the communities themselves and developing plans that suit the needs of residents and tackle head-on the issues they face.
Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy said: “We know that the answers to tackling organised crime lie in the communities where these people operate, so we are asking residents to take a stand with us and together we can bring about real change.
“These are your communities. They belong to you, not the criminal families who try and rule with an iron fist. With so many of these people starting life sentences, I want residents to have the confidence that things are different and you can come forward. If you tell us what action needs taking, then through your local police officers and the local authority, we will take it and together we will dismantle these criminal networks.”
The long-term aim of the operation is to change people’s attitudes towards the acceptance and existence of organised crime groups and discourage youngsters from slipping into this lifestyle.
The operation has the support of the Home Office and after the initial pilot in north east Manchester and Tameside the operation is likely to be rolled out across Greater Manchester and potentially on a national scale in future months.
By pooling the resources of so many agencies it will also save the taxpayer money, allowing agencies to work together to deal more effectively with the same people from the same troubled families who are a huge drain on the public purse.
“Generations of families have been brought up in a culture of violence, intimidation and reputation and it is engrained in their psyche,” added Sir Peter Fahy. “For these people, the threat of prison may not be enough.
“But if you strip away their status, take away the flash motors bought through drug money, seize the illegally-obtained homes and businesses and dry up the funds to buy guns and drugs then we can cut these so-called Mr Bigs down to size and show future generations there is nothing glamorous about organised crime, and that this sort of lifestyle will leave you penniless and in prison.”
Cllr Bernard Priest, Manchester City Council’s executive member for neighbourhood services, said: “Organised criminal networks inflict misery upon entire communities, and we have been working closely with the police and other organisations to ensure these networks are taken apart and those responsible are brought to justice.
“I would like to praise residents in east Manchester and other areas who have had the courage to stand up for their communities and say they have had enough of their efforts to improve their neighbourhoods being undermined by these criminals. With their help, I am confident that our city will become a worse place for criminal gangs and a better place for law abiding members of the public.”
Executive Leader of Tameside Council Cllr Kieran Quinn said: “The main positive we can take from this whole episode is the unwavering support demonstrated by the borough’s community to say to these criminal gangs: we will not just stand by and let you carry out your nefarious business unchallenged. The still on-going work between the police, council and our partners is testament to the dedication demonstrated on a daily basis to ensure we face up to the criminal gangs at every opportunity.
“There is no escaping the fact that the events surrounding this court case left a dark cloud looming over Tameside, but I feel and genuinely believe that the cloud has now lifted and, with the community’s continued support, we can look forward to a brighter future for Droylsden and Tameside as a whole. A future in which we say loud and clear to these gangs that we will confront you at every available opportunity.”