Sixteen men and two women have been charged as part of a major operation aimed at tackling illegal drug supply in the North West of England.
Officers launched Operation Florence following concerns raised by residents in Darwen about drug use by children in the area and that youngsters were being exploited into supply illegal substances after getting into debt.
As part of the investigation warrants were executed at 25 addresses – including properties in Darwen, Blackburn and Northwitch – in May and June and a large quantity of suspected cocaine and cannabis was recovered. Officers also seized a number of vehicles and weapons including knives and a knuckleduster.
A villa linked to the investigation in Marbella (pictured) was also searched by colleagues from the Spanish Police and a firearm was recovered.
Following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service 18 people have been charged as part of the investigation.
Usman Akhter, 36, Tariq Ajaib, 49, and Craig Hollins, 47, all of Sarah Street, Darwen, have each been charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to supply cannabis.
Ardit Prahmnai, 21, of Astbury Close, Darwen; Liam Parker, 27, of Atlas Street, Darwen; Rory Compton, 29, of Ash Grove, Darwen; James Burrows, 21, of Plantation Road, Blackburn; Joseph Ginley, 35, of Milking Lane, Darwen; and Mark Jeal, 36, of Pilmuir Road, Blackburn, have all been charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine and conspiracy to supply cannabis.
Samuel Howard, 24, and Clare Lester, 24 - both of Duckworth Street, Darwen; Nico Moorby, 26, of Petre Wood Crescent, Langho; and Jack Beeke, 27, of Church Terrace, Darwen, are all charged with conspiracy to supply cannabis.
Gail Pilling, 42, of Derwent Road, Darwen, is charged with being concerned in the supply of cannabis; Michael Ryan Young, 29, of Alexandra Mews, Blackburn, is charged with conspiracy to supply cannabis; Ellis Gorman, 26, of Holden Fold, Darwen, is charged with conspiracy to supply cocaine; Augustine McDonagh, 32, of Bobbin Close, Accrington, is charged with conspiracy to commit damage and being concerned in the supply of cannabis; and Ben Stones, 21, of Cavendish Road, Darwen, has been charged with handling stolen goods.
Sgt Stu Peall, from the East Exploitation Team, said: “We are committed to tackling and disrupting drug-dealing activity and protecting vulnerable members of society. This operation was launched directly on the back of concerns raised by members of the public and I would encourage anyone concerned about criminal activity in their area to contact the police, knowing that we will act on that information and take the appropriate action.”
A 21-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of importing cannabis and a 21-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of money laundering have been released under investigation.
Eighteen people appeared at Blackburn Magistrates Court earlier this month.
Anyone with concerns about drug-dealing or any other criminal activity in their area can call police on 101 or 999 in an emergency. Alternatively, Crimestoppers can be contacted, in confidence, on 0800 555111.