'Curtains were twitching': Drug kingpins hiding in plain sight in wealthy neighbourhoods jailed in huge police swoop

9 October 2023, 13:03 | Updated: 9 October 2023, 13:04

Hundreds of drug dealers have been jailed
Hundreds of drug dealers have been jailed. Picture: Met Police

By Kit Heren

Hundreds of violent drug dealers in London have been jailed in a massive police operation.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Some 942 people have been arrested, with 784 charged and 426 convicted over a three and a half-year operation.

Most of the charges were for drugs offences, but some were also accused of crimes linked to guns, money laundering, and other kinds of violence.

The people who have been convicted have been jailed for 3,722 years, which comes to an average of more than eight and a half years for each person.

Police seized more than £19 million in cash, along with three tonnes of Class A and B drugs. Officers also took 49 guns and 755 pieces of ammunition.

Police said that many of the drug kingpins were far away from the day-to-day operations on the street, but were instead living in wealthy neighbourhoods. The criminals were often living in big houses in rich neighbourhoods, driving expensive cars.

Read more: Met Police step up patrols in London amid reports of people ‘glorifying' attacks on Israel by Hamas

Read more: Kosher restaurant in Golders Green vandalised as Met police step up patrols in London

Courtney Freckleton was among those jailed
Courtney Freckleton was among those jailed. Picture: Met Police

But they employed enforcers to use the threat of violence to get their way.

“[They] might be known to police and law enforcement but to their neighbours, they [were] wealthy business people, Commander Paul Brogden of the Met said.

"It would be fair to say that curtains were twitching when we banged on some of these doors in leafy enclaves in the home counties."

Commander Brogden added: "In their conversations it was apparent that they were discussing plots to commit murder, plans to import and transport huge quantities of drugs [and] launder money to sell firearms — all of which will have caused untold misery."

A gun seized as part of the operation
A gun seized as part of the operation. Picture: Met Police

The criminals jailed as part of the operation included Naki Aslan, a “violent and dangerous” senior drug dealer from Hackney in east London, who conspired to import 20kg of heroin and cocaine a week.

Another was west London rapper Nines, whose real name is Courtney Freckleton, was jailed in 2021 for importing 28 kilos of cannabis into the UK.

The multi-year operation that snared the drug dealers was called Operation Eternal.

Officers have infiltrated encrypted EncroChat phones that criminals are using to organise multi-kilo drug deals, launder money, and orchestrate violence.

This let police investigate these senior members of criminal gangs who were previously out of reach of police.

Cash seized as part of the operation
Cash seized as part of the operation. Picture: Met Police

The National Crime Agency, which helped with the investigation, said: “The infiltration of EncroChat provided a gold mine of intelligence which through officers’ monumental efforts, was transformed into evidence enabling thousands of arrests to happen. There has been nothing like it."

Commander Brogden added: "Op Eternal is the most significant operation targeting organised crime figures in the Met’s history.

“The suspects in these investigations are dangerous criminals, many of whom play a key role in supplying kilos of drugs to street gangs whose activities blight and cause misery in communities across London.

Cannabis seized as part of the operation
Cannabis seized as part of the operation. Picture: Met Police

"Every dangerous criminal jailed, and every gun and amount of drugs taken off the street as part of Op Eternal has served to make neighbourhoods in and around the capital safer..

“Our Op Eternal caseload remains significant, and many more cases are being progressed behind the scenes.

“We still have specialist teams working to attribute EncroChat handles to people; we are still making arrests regularly; and we still have more to do.

“Our message to criminals who operated on EncroChat and haven’t yet been visited by police is clear; we won’t stop until we have investigated all EncroChat handles, and it is only a matter of time before we knock on your door and arrest you.”