A MASSIVE undercover police sting netted 27 drug dealers peddling crack cocaine and heroin on the streets of Sheffield near schools, children’s parks and outside places of worship.
Of the 27 men, women and children sentenced, 22 of them - the youngest aged 15 - are today behind bars for a total of 67 years and one month.
At the end of a special two-day hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, during which dozens of police officers stood guard, Judge Alan Goldsack QC said: “I have to pass punishments to protect the public from this blight on their community - in short, to try to clean up the streets.”
During sentencing some defendants shouted and swore at the judge on their way down to the cells while relatives in the public gallery also hurled abuse.
The huge 18-month undercover operation - dubbed Operation Mach - was launched in August 2009 after worried residents complained drug dealers were blighting their communities and peddling their trade at all hours of the day and night.
The operation also came in the wake of turf wars in some parts of the city during which youngsters were seriously injured or killed.
Undercover officers were sent out onto the streets to infiltrate the drugs gangs and catch them plying their trade on video and audio tape.
Most of the drug deals were carried out in broad daylight, often in schools or parks frequented by children.
Many of the dealers met their clients outside Springfield Primary and Nursery School on Broomspring Lane, Broomhall, while others sold drugs in Mount Pleasant Park, Sharrow, as kids played nearby.
Other dealers plied their trade outside places of worship which included Sheffield Cathedral and St Mary’s Church on Bramall Lane.
Susan Evans, prosecuting said: “Operation Mach was mounted in response to community concerns regarding the rising level of violence in Broomhall, Highfields, Lowfields, Sharrow and Nether Edge as well as the city centre.
“It was aimed to address the long standing problem of organised crime groups and the supply of Class A drugs within the city of Sheffield.
“The local residents expressed concerns as to the overt nature of drug dealing taking place by young males in residential areas, communal stairwells, and education and recreation areas situated within the area of the operation.
“Residents were increasingly aware of the drugs supply and drugs misuse in the area which had a significant negative impact on their wellbeing and family life.”
Sentencing the dealers, Judge Goldsack told them: “The police experience difficulties in bringing drug dealers to justice - those to whom drug dealers are supplying will rarely tell the police who the dealers are or give evidence against them. Partly out of fear of the consequences of doing so, and partly out of misplaced loyalty and not wishing to lose their supply.
“Decent members of the community are reluctant to become directly involved. So the police have to use other methods.
“Plain clothes officers, often at considerable risk to their own personal safety, pretended to be drug dealers themselves, selling commodities in the area.”
Judge Goldsack added the operation would have been “very expensive, both in terms of money and human resources”.
Speaking after the hearing Supt Peter Norman who led the operation welcomed the sentences and issued a warning to other drug dealers.
He said: “If you think you are safe to deal drugs in South Yorkshire you are not. If you think communities will tolerate you, they won’t. If you think people won’t tell us who you are, they do.
“We will arrest you wherever and whenever we can.”