SIXTEEN people have been arrested and imitation firearms, knives, weapons, cash and drugs seized following a series of dawn raids.

The operation, which began in the early hours of this morning, aimed to target a network of suspected cocaine dealers believed to supply the Class A drug to recreational users across Brentwood.

Acting on information from the community, Essex Police launched an investigation in February this year targeting dealers supplying the Class A drugs to people in bars and pubs across the town centre at weekends.

Supported by Brentwood Borough Council, who also provided additional resources to support the policing operation, the police began investigating Class A drug dealing in the town centre and building a picture on individuals.

The investigation culminated today with the execution of more than 20 warrants across Brentwood. Properties in Dagenham and Romford were also targeted.

Those arrested so far have been on suspicion of offences ranging from possession of drugs, to possession with intent to supply and being concerned in the supply of drugs.

Chief Insp Lewis Basford, District Commander for Brentwood, said: "We are continuing to take our fight to the people who think they can sell drugs on the streets of our county.

"People may think that taking cocaine on their night out on a Friday or Saturday doesn’t harm anyone but they are wrong.

"There is a human cost to every single drug sold illegally. Someone, whether that is a child or vulnerable person, will have been exploited to get that drug from the person at the top of the drug dealing chain to the individual buying that on the street.

"It may be that a child is trafficked into transporting those drug packages for a dealer, or it may be that someone with a drug habit is exploited into selling cocaine and is subjected to violence unless they comply.

"Every single wrap of cocaine will be at the cost of someone’s blood or tears and we would ask people to think about that the next time they think about taking it for a laugh or a good night out.

"As this operation shows, however long it takes we will target those who think they can sell drugs on the streets of our communities.

"I would like to reassure the residents of Brentwood that where we receive information that criminals, gangs or drug dealers are active in their area we will, as today shows, act on that.

"I would also like to send a clear message to drug dealers and criminals that they are not welcome on the streets of Brentwood or Essex.”

Anyone with information about drug-related crimes should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.