AROUND 300 police officers swooped on 25 properties today in a dawn raid in Runcorn.

Operation Gram was the biggest of its kind Cheshire Police has staged to target the suspected use and supply of cannabis.

Some 23 local men were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to supply cannabis and are currently helping police with their enquiries.

Warrants and searches were carried out at 25 properties across the town.

Specialist officers were used to gain entry to the properties and officers, who are experts in search techniques, are now carrying out detailed inspections of all the addresses.

The operation was led by officers from Runcorn Neighbourhood Policing Unit, supported by colleagues from across the force.

Representatives from partner agencies including local housing associations were also involved in the operation.

Inspector Gareth Lee, of Runcorn NPU, said: “Around 300 officers from across the force have been involved today,this shows the full extent of the operation.

“The strike phase this morning is the result of a 12 month operation by local officers focusing on a number of individuals suspected of being involved in illegal drugs in Runcorn.

“Over that period intelligence and evidence has been gathered surrounding the use and supply of Cannabis across the town.

“This has culminated today in a number of high-profile raids, which we hope will send out a strong message that this sort of behaviour is not welcome in Runcorn and will not be tolerated.

“Illegal drugs can have a major impact on local communities. It is an issue we take extremely seriously and we devote all the resources we can to tracing those responsible for drug use and supply and disrupting their behaviour.”

Local neighbourhood officers are carrying out high-visibility patrols to offer reassurance to local residents.

Officers will be handing out leaflets to homes in the areas affected and talking to members of the local community about the action that has been taken.

Inspector Lee added: “The majority of these arrests have been carried out as a result of information that has been passed on by the local community.

“This type of intelligence is vital and helps us to build up a bigger picture of what is happening in a particular area and to work out the best ways of dealing with any issues.

“Residents told us their concerns regarding suspected cannabis related activity in the town. A lot of this activity was not done behind closed doors. It was blatantly done in full view of people in the middle of the street.

“This sort of behaviour is clearly not acceptable and we want to get the message across loud and clear that those who choose to get involved in this sort of activity are not welcome in Runcorn – and it is only a matter of time before we catch up with you.”

Today’s operation does not end with the strike phase and the efforts of local officers will continue.

Inspector Lee added: “We hope that the success of today’s operation reassures people in Runcorn that we are listening to what they are saying and are taking those concerns seriously.

“We have seen first hand the effect that drugs can have on the local community and we will continue to target those suspected of being involved in this type of activity.

“But removing those suspected of drug use and supply is just one part of providing long-term solutions to drug-related problems within the local community. We would like to thank residents for their patience and co-operation throughout the 12 month operation.

“It is important that we continue to work in partnership with local people and other agencies to ensure that all the knock-on effects of drugs misuse are dealt with.

“We cannot stress how important information from members of the public is in the fight against drug related crime and we would urge anyone with any information to contact us - even the smallest amount of information can be useful when piecing together a case.

“The issue of illegal drugs is a priority for Runcorn NPU and we will continue to work closely with the local community to gather, and act upon, any further intelligence in relation to drugs.”

Anyone with any information about drug-related crime in Runcorn is urged to call Cheshire Police on 101 .