London police raid Rastafarian temple

The Independent, UK/April 12, 2007

Police arrested 23 people in a raid on a Rastafarian temple this morning.

Search warrants for the premises at St Agnes Place, Kennington, south east London, had been executed under the Drugs and Firearms Legislation and the operation was carried out at 3.10am as part of a joint initiative between police and the local authority.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: “These premises have been used in part as a Rastafarian temple, however, it is believed that a high level of serious criminality has been operating from here which is adversely affecting the local communities.”

Chief Superintendent Martin Bridger, area commander for the London borough of Lambeth, said this morning’s raid had followed weeks of surveillance.

He said: “This is a culmination of a long-term surveillance operation where there is clear evidence that the premises were being used to supply both Class A and B drugs.

“In the past few weeks we’ve arrested around 200 people coming away from the premises and they have even had cannabis or crack cocaine on them.”

He said the four terraced houses had traditionally been used in the past as a Rastafarian temple.

But he said that in recent months suspected drug dealers had taken them over.

“Some of the management committee from the Rastafarian community have come to me to say that it has not been used as a Rastafarian temple for a number of weeks.

“These other people have taken it over. It has a long history of being a Rastafarian temple but that is not what it is being used for,” he said.

Around 100 armed officers stormed the buildings at around 3am today, backed up by another 150 policemen and women.

Mr Bridger said a search of the properties, which are decorated in the green, yellow and red colours of Rastafarianism, would now take place.

But he added that there was “clear evidence” that firearms had been on the premises in the past.

Mr Bridger said the police operation began last October and culminated in intense 24-hour surveillance over the past eight weeks.

Officers had gathered evidence against a “core” of around a dozen people suspected of drug dealing.

Mr Bridger said some of the evidence included footage of a man waving a handgun outside the buildings.

He added that officers had seen “hordes” of people visiting the buildings during the surveillance operation.

“We have had up to 600 people visit on some days and we suspect that most people were using it to buy drugs.

“There is also clear evidence and information that there were firearms on the premises,” he said.

He conceded that the police ran the risk of dispersing the problem elsewhere by carrying out the raid.

But he said officers had no choice but to act on the information gathered over the past weeks and months.

The buildings, topped by a Rastafarian flag, have been at the centre of a dispute over whether they should be demolished.

Mr Bridger said adjacent buildings had been knocked down in 2005 and the council was in the process of trying to find an alternative site for the Rastafarian temple.

He stressed that although members of the Rastafarian community had gone to police about the recent use of the buildings, they had not been involved in today’s operation.

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