Victory for residents after convictions of two over Ilford station drugs gang

Costa Coffee, Cranbrook Road.

Costa Coffee, Cranbrook Road. - Credit: Archant

British Transport Police (BTP) Insp John Loveless had just taken charge of the TfL Rail line in spring 2016.

He took a train to Ilford for a first look at what had been identified as a problem station, and got chatting to a commuter.

“The first thing anyone told me was there’s drug dealing in Ilford station,” Insp Loveless revealed at a council meeting last year.

“I thought my gosh, that’s the first person I’ve spoken to.”

Today two members of a gang which sold heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis from outside Costa Coffee, in Cranbrook Road, were convicted at Blackfriars Crown Court.

This followed an unprecedented operation between the BTP and Redbridge Police, involving intense surveillance and numerous undercover operatives.

It was experiences like Insp Loveless’ which caused the BTP to put a lot of their resources into Ilford – they now have a permanent office there with 20 full time staff.

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It was also down to a concerted campaign by residents of York and Balfour roads, and Valentines ward councillors, who had lived in misery for too long.

They attended several council meetings, telling the police how people were waiting to buy drugs “queueing up like from an ice cream van”.

Residents berated officers for letting the drug dealing go unpunished: “It’s making our lives an utter nightmare.”

Ch Supt Mandy Beacher, who had just taken over as Redbridge borough commander in March 2016, said she was “horrified”.

“Not only members of the public were fearful but some of my police officers were seriously assaulted,” she admitted.

In April the Recorder revealed a turf war outside the station for the prime drug dealing spots, which has since been confirmed in court. Shop staff began to fear for their lives. In one incident a member of the gang beat a rival with a metal pole.

But by this time the BTP and Redbridge Police had launched Operation Reclaim, and were beginning to make inroads into the gang. Officers went undercover and conducted buys outside Ilford station, which led to a wealth of evidence in court.

And then on September 1 the police struck, early morning raids at several addresses across Ilford led to 17 arrests.

Two of those have been convicted in court today. They will be sentenced with seven others who pleaded guilty on arrest.

After the verdict Cllr Khayer Chowdhury (Lab, Valentines) told the Recorder: “Our residents have been raising these issues for many years now and for many years we tried different approaches to deal with the drug problems.

“Last year we decided to go for a covert operation and it worked. We’ve got suspects going through the courts now and our message is clear: zero tolerance to drugs and loutish behaviour.”

Credit must go to the police for their successful operation, but ultimately to the residents and councillors who never let the issue slide.