Police crackdown on suspected 'P' labs

More than 50 police, including members of two armed offenders squads, swarmed into two Tauranga neighbourhoods during a major crackdown on suspected P-labs.

The raids in Welcome Bay and Arataki began early yesterday afternoon and saw one school go into lock down and three people arrested.

But police are not discounting more arrests.

Armed police raided a house in James Cook Drive in Welcome Bay about 1.30pm and two houses in Gloucester Rd and Mahina Place in Arataki.

Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner, head of Tauranga CIB, said more than 50 police were involved in the operation, including approximately 30 Tauranga-based detectives and constables, and members of Tauranga's and Rotorua's armed offenders squads.

As a result of the raids a woman and two men in their 20s were arrested and charged with a variety of offences, including possession of methamphetamine, possession of equipment for the manufacture of P, and possession of cannabis related instruments, he said.

All three were appearing in Tauranga District Court today.

Mr Turner said all three properties searched remained under scene guard last night and would undergo forensic examination by the Auckland-based clandestine drug laboratory team and ESR scientists today.

He said cordons around the addresses were in place and occupants of the houses would not be able to return to their homes until the examinations were fully completed.

People living at the addresses and police personnel were put through the fire service's decontamination shower yesterday, he said.

It was too early to comment on what police found at the addresses.

Welcome Bay resident Alice Campbell was on her couch when she was startled by loud noises next door about 1.30pm.

"I heard all this banging and yelling outside. I went over to the window and got the fright of my life," she said. "They'd dragged two people outside and got them down on the ground with guns to their heads.

"It was so scary but kind of exciting. The whole street was on shutdown."

Armed police manned cordons at the intersections of James Cook Drive and Victory St and Village Park Rd and Waitaha Rd.

She said the residents of the house had not caused any trouble in the past although it was a "rough neighbourhood".

Selwyn Ridge School principal Craig Price said police informed him they were doing an operation across the road and he was told to keep the kids at school unless they were picked up by their parents in a car.

After school finished at 2.30pm, about 500 students were kept inside the school hall until police issued the all clear 20 minutes later.

Mr Price said police were concerned that children walking home lived on those streets and would not have been allowed inside the cordon to get home.

The school attempted to contact parents however some did not know their children were being held at the school.

Mother of two Emma Potaka expected her children at home but arrived to find an empty house.

"I was working and when I came home they should have been there but they weren't. They were half an hour late and I began panicking and started thinking 'where the heck are they' so I came up [to the school] to find them."

When she arrived at the school, another parent told her what had happened.

"This is really scary," she said.

Her 10-year-old daughter Jayde Rolleston said students were grouped in the hall and told to stay calm.

"Everyone was trapped in there and I was wondering what was going on."

Logan Davey lives just a few houses away from the house that was raided in Arataki.

The police had already removed the occupants of the house by the time Mr Davey realised what was happening.

"They pulled one guy out and everyone, including the cops, had to strip down and get into these white jumpsuits."

Mr Davey said police brought a young man out of the house, as well as a young woman and an older woman carrying a baby.

The young man was taken away in a police car, Mr Davey said.

He said police were stationed outside the house overnight to prevent anyone from re-entering until a drug decontamination team arrived in the morning.

Mr Turner said yesterday's raids were all part of ongoing police operation named Operation Wella which last month saw 16 people charged with variety of drug and firearms charges after dozens of police seized drugs, cash, guns and parts of a P-lab during 18 raids on Bay properties.

- By Amy McGillivray, Genevieve Helliwell and Sandra Conchie of the Bay of Plenty Times

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