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Drugs conspiracy charges mark 18 months of Operation Costello

18 Nov 2021

Three men suspected of being involved in a drug dealing conspiracy have been charged, with drugs and £80,000 in cash seized, as our biggest ever operation to tackle serious and organised crime continues.

The men, aged between 24 and 43, were apprehended in dawn raids across Luton, Shefford and St Albans yesterday (Wednesday) by officers from Operation Costello, a specialist unit which has taken down a series of organised criminal networks operating in Bedfordshire.

After being interviewed by officers, they were charged for offences including conspiracy to supply cocaine, conspiracy to supply cannabis, money laundering and possession with intent to supply. One of the men was also bailed for possession of a firearm.

Two other men, aged 31 and 39, were also arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply and conspiracy to supply cocaine, and were subsequently released under investigation.

This week marks 18 months since we launched the operation, which sees dedicated investigators and analysts target the key players involved in the importation and distribution of drugs in Bedfordshire alongside colleagues from our Serious and Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).

Operation Costello has had a major impact on disrupting organised crime across the county. Standout results by our force alone include:

  • 65 arrests for offences including drug dealing and money laundering
  • 61 years in jail for those sentenced so far
  • £710,000 in cash seized
  • 7.3kg of cocaine seized, worth nearly £300,000
  • 600g of heroin, worth around £60,000
  • 1,641 quantities of ecstasy
  • 430g of other class A substances
  • 122 warrants at addresses across the county
  • Three firearms
  • 37 people charged
  • 7kg of cannabis and 20 cannabis plants

The operation is the our response to the national Operation Venetic, which looks at criminality associated with specialist encrypted phones. Cracking the encryption on these devices has enabled law enforcement to shine a light on the networks suspected of being involved in the highest levels of serious and organised crime across the country.

Ministers this year awarded us more than £7 million in special grant funding for to respond to the extraordinary challenges posed locally by organised crime. Some 227 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking were identified in Bedfordshire last year - the eleventh highest of any UK police force area, with similar numbers discovered by far larger forces such as Merseyside.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bellingham, our Head of Serious and Organised Crime, said: “Operation Costello is one of the most important operations to have ever taken place in Bedfordshire, not only in terms of apprehending those looking to bring harmful substances into our communities, but also due to its role tackling the wider impact drug and drug related crime has on society.

“We know that organised crime is intrinsically linked to much of the violence, exploitation and anti-social behaviour which blights our communities, and it’s therefore right that we target those at the top. We aren’t just talking about drug dealing; organised crime is directly linked to other crime such as modern slavery, human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, all of which involve vulnerable people being targeted and exploited.

“The significant results we have seen over the last 18 months are testament to the tireless work and dedication of a significant number of officers and staff members, who are relentless in their pursuit of offenders linked to drug importation and wider conspiracies. Our work doesn’t stop here; we know there are still people among our communities looking to inflict misery on Bedfordshire by peddling these dangerous substances, and we won’t stop until they are put before the courts.

“We are also incredibly conscious that issues related to drug crime can’t be tackled by policing alone. There is a vast network of support services and partners across the county which are dedicated to helping vulnerable people, such as the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), local councils and the Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) campaign, which are all working towards making our county a safer place.”

Bedfordshire Police’s Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye said: "We are seeing some of the outcomes of extra cash investment in Bedfordshire Police by the government through Operation Costello.

“During the election, I made a commitment to clamp down on organised crime gangs and do everything I can to ensure we get the resources in. Our officers will not relent in their efforts to arrest, prosecute and imprison those who wish to use our county as a place to do drugs and launder money."

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