AN operation aimed at stopping criminals from getting into Wirral through ports, stations and main roads has been hailed a success.

Merseyside police force's counter-terrorism branch and roads policing unit joined forces with Mersey Tunnels and Port of Liverpool Police, British Transport Police, Lancashire Constabulary, Greater Manchester Police, UK Border Agency, UK Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs, Job Centre Plus fraud office, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Marine and Fisheries Agency, to staff ten key sites.

Sites covered by the operation included the Wallasey Tunnel, Lime Street Station, and the main arterial routes out of Merseyside.

Its aim was to detect and deter crimes such as terrorism, money laundering, the smuggling of illegal drugs, contraband and fuel, disrupting the activities of serious organised crime groups and gathering intelligence linked to issues of national security and terrorism.

In Seaforth Dock, Liverpool, police acting on intelligence and using powers under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000, stop-checked passengers, cars and commercial vehicles getting on and off ferries suspected of being involved in criminal activity. More than 1500 passengers were stop-checked, 151 freight containers and 11 boats searched.

The high visibility operation also involved the use of giant arches to scan vehicles for illegal items as they pass through, sniffer dogs to detect drugs and explosives, and fuel-dipping checks.

At Lime Street station, four people were arrested for immigration offences after being found with false immigration papers, including one man who also had £1000 cash seized by British Transport Police under the Proceeds of Crime Act, and at Twelve Quays in Birkenhead a man from South America was arrested for immigration offences having travelled in from Belfast.

At Seaforth a lorry and trailer was seized and the driver arrested on suspicion of illegal diesel smuggling, while at Liverpool John Lennon Airport 12 kilograms of tobacco and 9,000 cigarettes were seized.

Detective Chief Inspector Mike Lawlor from Merseyside Police's Intelligence Security Bureau, said: "This was a highly successful operation involving the vast expertise and experience of many police officers and members of the Force's partner agencies, who are all working towards making Merseyside and the rest of the region a safer place to live and work.

"Criminals need to travel to conduct their business so by targeting sea, road, rail and air travel in the region with our partners, we are making the transport links a more hostile and difficult place for them and therefore a safer place for the law-abiding public.

"By having a presence at all the main routes into Merseyside we have been able to send out a clear message to criminals and anyone planning to jeopardise the security of the region to think again, and reassure the public of the measures in place to protect them."

Graham Forbes, from HMRC Special Investigations North West said: “We are determined to clampdown on the illegal use of rebated oils and will achieve this by working closely with our partners, such as the police, in joint exercises on this scale to increase the detection of this type of criminal activity and by imposing tough penalties.

"Thanks to joint working like this across the UK, HMRC have already broken up 27 criminal gangs behind oils fraud,dismantled 77 laundering plants and detected 7713 vehicles running on illegal fuel in the last two years."

Chief Inspector Neil Moffat of British Transport Police, added: "Lime Street is one of the busiest stations in the region and our activities here today have sent a message that we will not tolerate anyone who seeks to use the railway for criminal gain.

"This operation has clearly demonstrated the close links that all law enforcement agencies have in Merseyside and we will continue to work together in the future to restrict opportunities for criminals and those who seek to cause harm to others."

Anyone aware of activities which they suspect may be connected to smuggling should call our 24-hour freephone 0800 59 5000.