Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Village Wins Back Streets

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Village Wins Back Streets

Article excerpt

Byline: By Louise Redvers

Defiant villagers have proved community action can beat drugs.

For nearly a decade Grange Villa, near Stanley in County Durham, was blighted by heroin.

Dealers and addicts took advantage of cheap rents and began using and dealing openly on the streets.

But complaints from families prompted a police operation and a local MP to get involved.

And in March last year hundreds of officers swooped on the former pit village, targeting the addresses of suspected dealers.

Since then locals have been continuing the clean-up.

Sixty-two-year-old Ann Blewitt was one of those who decided enough was enough.

"I've lived in the village since I was born and I had no intention of letting it go," the former factory worker explained.

"They'd be out by the back gate shooting up. I'd see them with their black bands.

"We used to use the old school building as a community centre but it got too run-down so we had to move out.

"But when we left they moved in and I could see them getting high from my bedroom window, dancing around candles like Red Indians."

Ann, chairwoman of the residents' association, contacted police and local councillors and a public meeting was arranged.

She didn't need an incentive to speak her mind, but having her handbag stolen from her kitchen table hours before the meeting probably gave her extra impetus.

Following the meeting, MP Kevan Jones visited to show his support and unbeknown to the residents, undercover police moved into the village and began gathering evidence on the dealers.

Then, on March 17 last year, just after 6am, 250 officers surrounded the village and raided 20 houses.

All the roads were blocked off and villagers were stopped from going to work while houses, sheds and gardens were searched.

Operation Yacca led to 19 arrests and ring-leaders Helen and David Embleton, formerly of West Street, were sentenced to nine years at Durham Crown Court.

With the drugs out of the village and the dealers behind bars, the next priority was to give the people a new focus. …

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