THE trial of six members of the notorious Bush Boys gang brought to light the seedy and violent drug-dealing underbelly of Basildon.
While some refuse to think about the drugs being peddled on the borough’s streets, for many residents – thanks to the gang – that reality has been brought to their doorstep.
The Bush Boys, who are predominantly of Somalian descent, hail from the Shepherd’s Bush area of London, hence their street name.
They have plagued the South East and parts of Essex for several years, but they first began plying their trade on the streets of Basildon about seven years ago.
Det Chief Insp Stuart Smith, of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said he believed the gang targeted Basildon due to its good transport links with London and its large population, providing the gang with a ready-made market.
He said: “If you look at the places the gang targeted, it’s largely substantial urban areas.
“There is intelligence around the Bush Boys operating in big towns because there is profit there.
“In any large town, there is a drug-taking community. No one would be naive enough to say there wasn’t such a community in Basildon.”
One of the gang’s trademarks – and how they gained a stronghold in the borough – is that they preyed on vulnerable residents.
The gang sought out addicts using their habit to manipulate them into becoming pawns in the dealers’ criminal enterprise.
In exchange for supplying their targets with drugs, the gang would move into an addict’s home, using it as a headquarters.
In some cases the gang dealt from the homes of their addicts, while in others they used the properties to store drugs or weapons.
They dealt from locations including underpasses, hotels, the back of well-used shops and even in children’s playgrounds.
The Echo has accompanied police on several raids as officers arrested gang members and secured Crack House Closure Orders, which allowed police to shut down homes used for dealing.
Although the tactic appeared to work temporarily, police found themselves engaged in a constant cat and mouse battle to stop the gang flooding Basildon with Class A drugs.
It soon became clear police were facingabattle withahighlyorganised serious crime group.
With every arrest of a gang member, another Bush Boy was waiting to ensure the gang continued to peddle their wares.
The gang even sent daily text messages to local addicts to promote special offers of heroin and crack cocaine.
Det Chief Insp Smith said: “They were a highly-organised crime gang and they made a lot of money from what they did.
“They operated a mobile phone number which they used to organise their drug deals.
“But if a member of the gang was arrested with that mobile phone in their possession literally, within hours, while they were still in custody, that number would be reactivated by another member of the gang and they would continue to sell drugs.”
In the summer of 2012, as police continued to battle daily to curb the gang’s activities, a rise in the violence associated with the Bush Boys prompted police to take drastic action. There was a sharp rise in the number of aggravated burglaries – where crooks force their way into a person’s home and commit violence or use weapons – across Basildon.
Members of the gang wielding guns and knives forced their way into the homes of not only rival dealers, to mark their territory, and addicts who owed them money, but innocent residents.
It was against this frightening backdrop that Essex Police launched an undercover crackdown targeting the gang, codenamed Operation Kilo.
Under the operation, which ran from June to November 2012, undercover officers posing as addicts were sent in to infiltrate the Bush Boys.
Over a five-month period they gathered damning evidence on the Bush Boys, including gang leaders, as the crooks unwittingly took part indrug deals with undercover police.
It was during one such transaction, in November 2012, involving an undercover cop known as Deano, when things went dramaticallywrong.
The gang became suspicious and, duringaviolent interrogation at one of their bases in Roodegate, discovered his secret camera.
After being savagely beaten, the officer made the brave decision to jump from the first floor window and escape with his life.
That officer’s bravery brought the world crashing down around the ears of six keymembers of the gang.
They included Bush Boy kingpin Mohammed Hassan, his girlfriend and his lieutenants Ross Bannister, Thomas Symons and Romy Bullen.
Under Operation Kilo, police smashed a hole through the heart of the Bush Boys, arresting more than 100 people, raiding hundreds of homes across Essex and London.
They charged 42 people with a range of drug related offences and saw a large number of those locked behind bars.
For Det Chief Insp Smith Operation Kilo has beenamassive success in the war on drugs.
He added: “This has made a significant impact on the Bush Boys’ criminal enterprise.”