- Video report by ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton
Police believe one of the country's largest coordinated drugs operations has been broken up following a series of dawn raids up and down the country.
Officers with the National Crime Agency say the sting has resulted in a total of 13 arrests - all alleged members of a cabal of drugs importers responsible for bringing in excess of 50 tonnes of drugs worth billions of pounds.
Thirteen men, aged between 24 and 59, were apprehended during dawn raids in London, Manchester, Stockport, St Helens, Warrington, Bolton, Dewsbury, and Leeds.
Between them, police say they were responsible for importing huge amounts of drugs into the UK from the Netherlands.
- ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton on the significance of the raids
ITV News joined one raid in London and saw a suspect being roused just after 6.30am.
An officer, who we have not identified, told ITV News National Editor Allegra Stratton how the raids were a big blow to the drugs operation.
The officer said of the raid: "It's very important for disrupting a huge transportation network bringing millions and millions of pounds-worth of drugs into the UK, class A and class B.
"And it's cutting off that supply network and cutting off the amount of drugs getting on to the streets."
The officer added that the individual they arrested was "certainly high up in the network we're investigating".
The suspects are believed to be part of the UK arm of a well-established organised crime group that used Dutch and British front companies to import heroin, cocaine and cannabis – secreted within lorry loads of vegetables and juice – through UK ports over an 18-month period.
Tuesday arrests come after Dutch police arrested four men and two women from the Netherlands were also arrested in April 2019 by the Dutch National Police on European Arrest Warrants.
They are currently awaiting extradition to the UK.
Jayne Lloyd, NCA Regional Head of Investigations, said: “The NCA targets organised crime groups causing the greatest harm to the UK.
“Stopping criminals who don’t care about the damage they are causing in communities, and the children being exploited by County Lines drug dealing, is an absolute priority.
“We suspect these men were involved in an industrial-scale operation – the biggest ever uncovered in the UK – bringing in tonnes of deadly drugs that were distributed to crime groups throughout the country.
“By working closely with partners here and overseas, in particular the Dutch National Police, we believe we have dismantled a well-established drug supply route.”
Europol, Eurojust, Police of Finland National Bureau of Investigation, Border Force, HMRC and numerous police forces have also supported the NCA with the investigation.
The full extent of the drug trafficking operation the NCA allege these men were involved in was uncovered following the interception of three consignments in September 2018.
They contained 351 kilos of cocaine, 92 kilos of heroin, 250 kilos of cannabis and 1,850 kilos of hemp/hashish, with a total street value of more than £38 million.
Subsequent enquiries led officers to believe they had imported drugs on numerous occasions between February 2017 and October 2018.
This investigation linked to an NCA operation, where 13 individuals were jailed for a total of 176 years, after the seizure of more than 100kg of heroin in 2015.