Last month, police in England and Wales made nearly 1,000 arrests and seized hundreds of millions of pounds worth of drugs and cash in the largest-ever crackdown on organized crime in the UK. Operation Mille, described as the “most significant” law enforcement initiative of its kind, targeted cannabis growing operations and resulted in the confiscation of 180,000 cannabis plants, with an estimated value of £130 million, and 20kg of cocaine worth up to £1 million. The operation also led to the seizure of 20 guns, 40 offensive weapons, and £636,000 in cash.
To carry out Operation Mille, all 43 local and regional police forces in England and Wales collaborated with the National Crime Agency and Immigration Enforcement. More than 11,000 police officers served over 1,000 warrants at suspected cannabis growing sites. The goal of the operation was not just to disrupt cannabis production but also to dismantle organized crime networks and understand their operations.
According to Steve Jupp, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Serious and Organized Crime, the cultivation of cannabis on a large scale is a significant revenue source for organized crime groups. While the trade in cannabis is often considered “low-level,” it is linked to other serious criminal activities such as Class A drug importation, modern slavery, violence, and exploitation. Jupp emphasized that participants in cannabis production are complicit in wider offending that harms communities.
One major concern addressed by Operation Mille is the exploitation of young people in county lines networks. These networks involve children as young as 12 who are lured out of school with promises of quick money and gifts in exchange for delivering drugs to customers in rural areas. Criminal organizations rely on the belief that young people are unlikely to face severe punishment even if caught with illegal substances. It is estimated that there are over 2,000 such gangs in the UK, employing 27,000 youths in drug selling and transportation.
This successful operation comes after a similar crackdown in 2020, when UK police arrested over 700 suspects and seized £54 million in cash and large quantities of drugs. The arrests were made possible through the hacking of EncroChat, an encryption format commonly used by criminal organizations involved in drugs, weapons, and people smuggling into the UK. The use of EncroPhones by thousands of individuals worldwide, who believed their communications were secure, was exposed.
The ongoing efforts to dismantle organized crime networks and disrupt their revenue sources demonstrate the determination of law enforcement agencies in England and Wales to tackle serious criminality. Operations like Mille aim to not only seize drugs and cash but also dismantle criminal networks and understand their operations. By doing so, authorities hope to significantly impact the activities of organized crime groups and make communities safer.