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Two men were jailed for a total of 19 years after the largest ever drug-haul in Bedfordshire.
Omar Khayam and Mohammed Arfaan, both 27, were part of a gang who aimed to flood the Bedford area with £2.6 million pounds' worth heroin.
Luton Crown Court was told two police officers stumbled across a heroin and cannabis factory in Bishopstone House, Ashburnham Road in Bedford at 8am on 3 December last year. They had gone to arrest a man for an unrelated offence. He was not there, but they noticed powder on the floor and objects covered by large plastic bags.
Prosecutor Natalie Carter said the officers returned with colleagues seven minutes later and searched the flat. Two men that had been there had escaped through a window. 26.2 kilos of heroin with a high purity of 51 to 54 per cent was recovered, along with 24 and a half kilos of caffeine and 4 and a half kilos of paracetamol to be used as "bash" to cut the drugs.
The "bash" was to be used to reduce the purity level of heroin so it would be sold at the normal street purity of about 25 per cent. There was also a third of a kilo of crack cocaine with a street value of £17,500 and £124,795 in cash. Mixing bags, scoops, scales, face masks and an hydraulic press were also seized.
The street value of the heroin, once it had been cut, was £2.6 million.
Mrs Carter said: "The men had left by a window. The heroin, bash and cash had been left behind." She went on: "The purity level of the drug indicated that it was at the top end of the distribution chain."
CCTV from the previous night showed men arriving at the flat with mixing bowls and the press. They were seen carrying items into the flat in plastic bags - one of the bags bore the logo Superdrug.
Three men are still at large, but Mohammed Arfaan was arrested after confessing his involvement to a police officer in Cambridgeshire and handing himself into Bedfordshire officers on March 17.
Khayam was arrested in a car in Milton Keynes on May 31. He was found to have 27 kilos of paracetamol with him. He was not charged with any offence in relation to that arrest.
Khayam, previously of Ford End Road, Bedford and Arfaan, of Chestnut Avenue Bedford, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs between May 18 last year and June 1 this year. One charged related to heroin and the other cocaine.
The haul of drugs was the largest seizure in Bedfordshire.
Khayam, who appeared in the dock in an wearing a blue Islamic hat, had been sentenced to 8 years by a judge at Luton on 14 March 2003 for conspiracy to supply a Class A drug and possession of cocaine. It was reduced to 5 and a half years on appeal. Arfaan was of previous good character.
For Khayam, Abbas Lakha QC, said he had become involved because of a drug debt he owed and was not the main organiser. "He was beholden to others and was not at the top end," he said. Alex Lewis, for Arfaan, said he had been drawn into the conspiracy by Khayam, who was a school friend. She said he was no more than a "driver, helper and mechanic" in the conspiracy.
Jailing Khayam for 13 years and Arfaan for 6 years, the judge said: "Dealing in heroin and cocaine is an odious and pernicious trade."
He said Khayam had dragged Arfaan, who had been a perfectly respectable man, before the court.
The two were part of an organised crime group which was supplying Class A drugs in Bedfordshire and beyond. The police investigation started in December 2009, when officers found heroin with an estimated street value in excess of Â£2.6million at a flat in Ashburnham Road, Bedford. With the huge haul of heroin was 325g of crack cocaine, 25kg of cutting agents, a hydraulic drug press and Â£130,000 in cash.
Piecing together where the huge haul of drugs came from and who was responsible for it took many months, and is still not complete, with three of those charged in connection with the case having absconded while on bail.
The second phase of the operation took place in March this year, when search warrants involving armed and unarmed police officers were carried out in Queen's Park, Bedford and Peterborough. Nine people were arrested, and five eventually charged.
Det Insp Jon Gilbert, who was in charge of the operation, said he was very pleased with the sentences received by the two defendants.
"This particular seizure was one of the biggest in value we have ever had in Bedfordshire, with a high purity level. The quantities were so large, drugs were actually being mixed in washing up bowls and there was so much white powder in the kitchen of the flat at Ashburnham Road it looked more like the occupants had been mixing plaster. That seizure led us on to four more months of work before we were able to move into the arrest phase, which itself took much planning because of the number of properties and people we had to deal with simultaneously. I'm pleased to say that we received some great feedback from Queen's Park residents, where most of the arrests took place. Quite a few approached uniformed officers to say they were pleased to see that we were taking firm action against such criminals," said Det Insp Gilbert.
"The understanding and support from the local community was particularly welcome, because inevitably the large scale of the operation did cause disruption at the time and seriously inconvenienced some people who eventually we were able to establish were not involved," he said.
"This has been one of our more high profile operations, but officers are arresting drug dealers all the time with help from the community. From those dealing small scale on street corners to those running multi-million pound gangs, someone always knows what's going on and we're always keen to hear from members of the public who have information on drugs."