Drug dealers target town as they switch focus to Middle England

    ‘We are completely committed to continuing to drive the drugs trade out of Tunbridge Wells’

    Dave Pate

    Tunbridge Wells is being targeted by London drug gangs as they move out of the capital and into the more affluent parts of the Home Counties.

    In turn those gangs are being targeted by local police in an ongoing operation that since 2014 has seen 106 arrests for drug offences and sentences totalling 119 years. Most of those arrested had London connections.

    Tunbridge Wells Chief Inspector Dave Pate told the Times: “One of the problems we have identified over the past two years has been caused by dealers who travel from places such as London and who have attempted to sell class A substances including cocaine and heroin.

    “What I would like to do is to reassure residents that my officers are targeting this criminality relentlessly.”

    Despite being viewed as the quintessential middle-class town, the issue of drugs is not new to Tunbridge Wells.

    As long ago as 2002, the late borough councillor Kevin Lynes described it as a place where young people could get ‘whatever drugs they wanted’ and referred to the town as a ‘drugs capital’.

    However, in recent years there has been a growing concern among authorities that those making money from the illicit trade are increasingly connected to London gangs who have a reputation for extreme violence.

    Of those arrested in the ongoing police crackdown, 74 involved London-based offenders with connections to gangs while just 32 offenders were local to Tunbridge Wells.

    One method utilised by the London gangs to distribute drugs and establish their presence in a new area has been dubbed ‘cuckooing’.

    This involves the identification of a vulnerable local addict in their new area of operation whose home they turn into a headquarters – sometimes resulting in the forced eviction of its occupier.

    A recent example of this method being employed in Tunbridge Wells saw London dealers Illias Chellali and Kamal Hussain, both 18, occupy the house of a female addict in Upper Grosvenor Road.

    Police found 73 individual wraps of heroin and crack cocaine with an estimated street value of £2,000 as well as a substantial amount of cannabis. Both were later sentenced to a total of almost six years’ detention.

    In February, David Hopkins, of Charlton’s Way, was sentenced to almost three years in prison after allowing a teenager from South Norwood to operate a drugs supply chain from his flat.

    Chief Inspector Pate said: “My job is to ensure that Tunbridge Wells remains a safe place in which people can live and work.

    “By and large crime levels are very low in this town and borough, but having said that there are areas of concern surrounding drug use which we simply cannot and will not tolerate.

    “We have made 106 arrests for drugs-related offences since 2014 and will continue to come down hard on anyone we believe to be involved in either the use or distribution of illegal substances.

    “What is pleasing is that the courts are supporting our hard work. In this time, they have handed down sentences totalling 119 years.

    “Drugs ruin lives and we are completely committed to continuing to drive the drugs trade out of Tunbridge Wells and surrounding areas.

    “The work we have been doing to catch gang members is sending out a very clear message to criminals that their behaviour will not be tolerated.”