Criminal kingdom smashed and terrifying armory seized in police bid to return Manchester to ‘law-abiders’

By Danielle Wainwright

More than £300,000 of drugs, weapons, high powered cars and £2million of counterfeit items have been seized in one of the largest operations against criminal gangs in Manchester’s history.

Challenger saw more than 100 warrants executed in the last five days target drug dealers, loan sharks, counterfeit goods suppliers and rogue landlords with police eager to identify every gang operational across Manchester.

The operation also saw more than 50 suspected gang members arrested for offences including drugs, firearms and money laundering with high powered rifles, a taser, batons and £25,000 in cash found.

Perhaps the biggest haul found was up to 50 tonnes of counterfeit goods including trainers, watches and clothing valued at around £2million in Strangeways.

Detective Chief Superintendent Rebekah Sutcliffe, who heads Challenger for Greater Manchester Police, said: “Organised crime groups have a corrosive and insidious effect on our communities. These sorts of people mistakenly believe they ‘own their turf’ and use violence and intimidation to make people’s lives a misery. 

“However, this week we have brought the fight to these gangs and through Challenger we are now declaring war on these criminal networks who for too long have been bullying communities and enjoying a lavish lifestyle. 

“Challenger is not about cutting off the head of a monster – it is about systematically dismantling these gangs member by member and making it impossible for them to operate. To do that, we need to get into the ribs of these people and hit them where it hurts.”
RAIDS: Police undertaking Challenger operation

Police are also hoping to expose benefit scams with several high powered cars thought to not be insured or taxed being seized.

It is thought that there are more than 160 organised criminal gangs in Greater Manchester, costing the local economy between £850million and £1.7billion each year. 

A central taskforce has also been set up to gather intelligence of every criminal gang in Manchester, while working with partners such as neighbourhood policing teams, Immigration Enforcement, the England Illegal Money Lending Team, housing providers, the Department for Work and Pensions, the DVLA, and HMRC. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Sutcliffe said: “There may be a misconception among people that organised criminality is all about drugs and guns and that it does not affect their lives. They could not be more wrong. 

“Organised criminality is not just about firearms and drug dealing – it is happening on people’s doorsteps every day without them realising it. 

“The way these gangs fund their criminal empires is through the sale of counterfeit goods, loan sharking, electricity, housing and benefit scams, human trafficking and rogue landlords.”

Police are asking anyone offered counterfeit goods or approached by loan sharks to report them in an attempt to involve the public in helping ‘give communities back to law-abiding people’.

Jim Battle, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner said: “These so-called ‘Mr Bigs’ think they can control our communities with a grip of fear. But the action taken by police, local councils and other agencies this week sends a clear message to these abhorrent individuals that there is no place for you in our communities – you will be hunted down and you will be brought to justice. 

“The fight is ongoing and we can only keep up the pressure on these criminal gangs with the support of our communities across Greater Manchester. I thank the decent, law-abiding people for their continued help and urge you all to stand with us so together we can bring down these criminals and build safer communities.” 

Anyone with information should contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. 

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