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Police confronted by occupants with rifles

TALIA SHADWELL, KAROLINE TUCKEY AND SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2014
LUKAS HAYWARD/Stuff.co.nz

Twenty one people have been arrested and various weapons seized in a series of busts targeting the Wellington region's drugs trade.

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Police seized drugs and swords from a central Wellington apartment, where they found the occupants lying in wait with high-powered rifles.

A series of raids across the Wellington region netted methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and cannabis - as well as a $3000 Maori carving reported stolen from the Te Papa gift shop.

No-one was injured in the confrontation at the Wellington apartment, and no guns were fired, Detective Inspector Darrin Thomson said.

He confirmed swords, the rifles, ammunition and $20,000 worth of methamphetamine were seized there.

He would not identify the apartment at the centre of the operation but confirmed it was not at Chews Lane or Century City, the sites of two recent high-profile drugs raids.

Police carried out 29 search warrants in the course of a week-long series of busts, as a result of which 18 men and three women aged between 21 and 52 were arrested.

They have been charged with a range of offences, including serious drugs dealing, firearms possession, and receiving stolen property. They are due to appear before courts across the region.

Three to four more arrests were expected, and police had visited some gang addresses, Thomson said.

Four children, aged between 3 months and 16 years old, had been referred to Child, Youth and Family.

The joint police and Customs investigation, called Operation Python, followed three months of planning and spanned Wellington, Porirua, Tawa, the Kapiti Coast and Hutt Valley.

A Tawa property, where one of the women was arrested, was seized by the central assets recovery unit, and is believed to be valued at about $300,000.

It is understood police found her freezer full of expensive groceries, including an estimated $400 worth of rib steaks and lamb cutlets.

Two houses were raided in Waikanae, two in Raumati, one in Paraparaumu and one in Otaihanga.

A Taser was found at one of the Kapiti addresses, Thomson said.

Six of the arrests were in relation to the importation of drugs via the internet.

Some of those arrested were people not usually connected with such serious offending, he said. "Their families clearly haven't known what they've been doing, and the impact on the family when they've found out has been destroying to those relationships."

P STILL HARD DRUG OF CHOICE

Methamphetamine crime remains high, but the drug may not be quite as popular as it once was.

Between 2003 and 2013, recorded offences for dealing and supplying meth rose steadily from 146 to 1205, while those charged with procuring or possessing the drug jumped by 190 per cent.

The number of people charged with manufacturing it, however, has stayed relatively static during the past decade, while recorded offences for importing or exporting it have increased from four in 2003 to 25 last year.

The latest joint agency report into tackling methamphetamine, published in April, shows the drug was still reasonably easy to acquire and the price was stable.

There had been a decrease in the number of meth labs discovered since the peak in 2006, when 211 were dismantled, but there had been an increase in large, commercial-scale labs.

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Chris Wilkins, leader of the illegal drug research team at Massey University, said Ministry of Health figures showed meth use had declined in recent years.

The drug surged in popularity when it burst on to the scene in the early 2000s, but in recent years police and health agencies had ramped up their efforts to fight it, and had improved rehabilitation programmes.

It would probably stay the hard drug of choice for some time, however. "One of the reasons meth is one of the most popular drugs is that you can make it locally, it's really easy to make, and there's a reasonably good source of pseudoephedrine coming in from China."

Meth Solutions director Miles Stratford, whose company decontaminates homes used as P labs, said many homes were still poisonous from activity 10 to 15 years ago.

But there were plenty of freshly contaminated houses, some the results of amateur attempts. "You have these guys who watch a bit of Breaking Bad then head down to Bunnings and have a crack."

- The Dominion Post

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