Police have raided a number of shops on so-called 'Counterfeit Street' thought to be selling fake goods.
Officers used angle grinders on Friday morning to storm a row of shops on Manchester's infamous 'Counterfeit Street' in the shadow of Manchester's Strangeways Prison - each one filled with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit goods.
Friday morning's raids on the warren of windowless units are just the latest carried out by police over the last five months.
Last autumn, Greater Manchester Police launched a huge crackdown on the counterfeit trade that has blighted this area for decades. As part of Operation Vulcan, the force says it has managed to dismantle the vast majority of the counterfeit trade in this part of the city.
Where once there were more than 200 shops selling fake goods around Bury New Road and Great Ducie Street, there are now believed to be fewer than ten. It has prompted one senior detective to declare it "the end of Counterfeit Street".
"This is absolutely the end," said Detective Chief Inspector Jen Kelly, one of the lead officers on Operation Vulcan.
"We've probably cleared out half. They have cleaned out half themselves because people know we're going to come in and they don't want to be here and get arrested or lose their stock."It's a race to get in before they clear them out. To see it in such small numbers now is phenomenal, it's a significant difference."We are here for the long term. We're not naïve. We know that if we stopped, they would just refill them.
"It's embedded criminality that has been going on for years and years. We've been going for five months now, which is just a drop in the ocean compared to the long-term plan."The ultimate goal for me is for this area to be safe. I want the school kids up the road to be able come to school and feel safe. I want legitimate business to thrive here."People talk about gentrification and it's a land grab and all of this, but this needs sorting out. These buildings do need regenerating. We need small businesses to come and thrive here."
When police carried out raids in the area in the past, the goods that were seized were quickly replaced via a nationwide network of organised crime groups.
The approach of Operation Vulcan has been more "relentless", DCI Kelly explains. When officers first raided a shop last autumn, they returned the next day to find people trying to restock it."That's not going to happen," explained DCI Kelly. "We obliterate the stock and shutter the shops ourselves."They physically can't restock them now. We're not going to let them."
Although a handful have tried to reopen, many shops have remained shut after being raided by police. In total, an estimated £40m worth of fake goods have been seized from warehouses, industrial units, and buildings that been converted into warrens of multiple shops.Strangeways and Cheetham Hill has long been notorious for its fake designer gear sold at a fraction of the price of the real thing, and is believed to account for 50% of all counterfeit trade in the UK.
GMP have said 33 organised crime gangs from across the country have links to the area. Much of the proceeds from the shops are laundered and used to fund organised crime, Sergeant Daniel Cullum explains.
The extent of the criminality linked to Bury New Road has even surprised experienced officers like him who have worked in the area for years.After raiding one unit, officers discovered it had been raking in more than £9,000 per day. One of the units targeted today is estimated to make more than £1.5 million a year."Last week, I stopped a car around the corner from here with £40,000 in a box," said Sgt Cullum.
"The money coming out of here is huge and is linking into the illicit medication. It's a massive issue and there is a long way to go."I don't think we'll ever stop counterfeit altogether. We know it's going online, but it's about making this area safer."When Operation Vulcan was first set up last year, DCI Kelly said people in the area were reluctant to work with police. However, she says the visible impact of the operation has led to increasing numbers of people providing police with intelligence about criminal activity."People didn't want to talk to us," she said. "It was an area that was criminally hostile to police engagement."Five months later, we have a very good picture of what's going on here. We have a really good plan of how we're going to tackle it."We're getting the intelligence and acting on it. They are seeing us act on it and they're giving us more."