Police blitz begins on pubs used as crime ‘safe havens’

Police raid The Grapes pub on Clerk Street. Photo: Greg Macvean

Police raid The Grapes pub on Clerk Street. Photo: Greg Macvean

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CRIMINALS using pubs in Edinburgh as “safe havens” for drug dealing and selling stolen goods are being targeted by a new police blitz.

A team of 20 officers carried out spot checks on a series of bars yesterday to launch Operation Oberon, a crackdown which will see regular swoops on bars believed to be frequented by offenders.

Sniffer dogs will be deployed to search patrons for drugs while chemical testing kits will be used in pub toilets to check for signs of drug taking.

Police chiefs said the operation, intended to run for several months, was aimed at “driving out” criminals using pubs for illegal activities while often terrorising staff and patrons.

The Grapes in Clerk Street, Newington, Bensons in Dalry Road, and Robertsons Bar in Gorgie Road were the first venues to be visited yesterday. Only one arrest was made for an individual wanted on an outstanding warrant.

Three police vans of officers and a dog unit descended on The Grapes at 1pm yesterday, with officers speaking to staff to check their premises were operating without incident.

Assistant Chief Constable Bill Skelly said: “Unfortunately, there are some people that believe that licensed premises are a safe haven away from prying eyes for criminal activities, including drug dealing, drug taking, selling stolen or counterfeit goods, antisocial behaviour, and using violence and intimidation towards customers and staff. This may also involve the possession of offensive weapons or drugs.

“We are sending out a clear message to criminals that pubs and clubs are hostile places for them. Everyone has the right to enjoy visiting and working at these establishments in safety.”

Operation Oberon follows in the wake of a number of high-profile crimes involving city pubs, including shootings at The Marmion and the Jock’s Lodge, the latter of which police said became a “gang hut” for a group of drug dealers. Preventing extortion rackets targeting pubs is another aim of Operation Oberon. The Gardeners Arms in Gilmerton was closed last year after it was the subject of an extortion bid.

John McCallum, the interim managers of The Grapes, welcomed the police action. He said: “It’s a good thing for our business. If our customers know that drugs are being taken on the premises, they won’t come in. We support the police in what they doing.”

Councillor Marjorie Thomas, the city’s licensing board convenor, said: “We work closely with our partners to combat criminal activity.

“Together, we take strong action on any premises that is not complying with the conditions of its licence and will work with licence holders to resolve any issues or concerns.”