A metal shutter opens and reveals a hidden shop filled with designer clothing.

Christmas is just weeks away, and the warren of streets in the shadow of Strangeways prison is a bustling hive of activity.

Couples and groups of young men and women lug bags of shopping along Bury New Road towards the city centre.

Everything from the latest Beats headphones to new Adidas trainers can be found in these parts, but there's a catch.


Many of the items on sale are knock off versions of the real thing - in an area long known as Britain's counterfeit capital.

Drug dealing, prostitution and street harassment are also ingrained here and residents who use the road complain it has become effectively "lawless."

The mile-long stretch in Cheetham Hill is now said to be at the centre of supply for a prescription drug said to be 'absolutely rife' on Manchester's streets.

Pregabalin - normally used to treat nerve damage, epilepsy and anxiety - is reportedly being widely sold on the streets around here for as little as 50p a tablet.

When the Manchester Evening News visited the area last week, our reporter was offered some in less than two minutes.

What happens along this busy road between the city centre and Broughton in Salford is no secret and has left many 'genuine' people in the area asking why it hasn't been resolved.

The manager of one shop described Bury New Road as 'the worst part of Manchester'

Ana Lopes, 46, works at Great Ducie Convenience Store - directly opposite the prison.

She has worked here for six years and while she has never had any problems herself, she says the area has become progressively worse.

"The people that sell the tablets are the problem," she explained.

"I tell them to get away from the shop."

Ms Lopes said she was aware that the area had a 'bad reputation' but believed it was undeserved.

"There are a lot of good people around here," she said.

"The police do more damage to the shops than they do to the people selling tablets."

The manager of a clothing store, who asked not to be named, said he saw drug dealing taking place 'all the time', describing it as 'an epidemic'.

A homeless man in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester holds a strip of Pregabalin tablets

"You see the young lads hanging around," he said.

"It impacts business and creates an image so you may not get a particular type of customer wanting to come to this area.

"It happens in Piccadilly Gardens too. If it's not here then it will just move somewhere else."

The man, who asked not to be named, said he believed investment was needed to help change the image of the area.

"We have the college being built and we are only a stone's throw from the city centre," he explained.

"It's prime for redevelopment. This is a busy main road so we will probably see big investors take over a lot of it.

"The city centre is growing all the time with the new apartments and flats."

The man said that although people associate the area with counterfeit clothing, shops such as his 'serve a need'.

"People like a bargain," he said.

"Not everybody can afford to go to JD and and spend £120 on a pair of trainers.

"If you come down here on a weekend, you'll see how busy it is.

Residents who use Bury New Road have complained that the area has become effectively "lawless"

"You would be surprised at the class of customer sometimes. I see them come down in Range Rovers.

"A lot of people assume we're all selling fakes. It makes it much harder for traders who are not like that.

"We only buy from reputable traders, but try to offer reduced prices. We can offer better prices than high street brands who have all the overheads."

Yet while the demand may exist, police have warned that people out shopping for cheap Christmas presents may actually be helping to fund serious organised crime.

Speaking to the M.E.N. following a series of police raids around Bury New Road this week, Inspector William Jennings-Wharton described the situation as a 'vicious circle'.

"You have people coming down here to buy this stuff, so there is a demand," he said.

"Because of the footfall the drug dealers come and that naturally brings the criminality.

"There is a genuine community here and some businesses are complaining about this stuff.

"We need to support them, the genuine hard-working people are almost pushed out by counterfeit business.

"These people selling counterfeit goods, we want to stop them."

Suspected counterfeit goods inside a property police raided off Bury New Road on Thursday

There is a tangible tension in the air as a police car remains parked on Bury New Road throughout the morning and afternoon.

Earlier in the day, officers seized a million pound worth of counterfeit goods during a raid on a property off Lockett Street.

Shop worker Alfphi Ali, 34, said he would like to see the police presence become more permanent.

"They should take action to stop it all," he said.

"It's not nice or comfortable to walk through this area.

"It doesn't feel like you're in the UK. Nice customers don't want to come here.

"You see some very dodgy people walking around."

The manager of another shop claimed fights broke out in the area on a regular basis and were 'bad for business'.

Last week, a violent 'large scale fight' involving 10 people broke out in Great Ducie Street and left six men in hospital.

Some of those involved were armed with weapons including machetes and metal bars.

The shop manager, who asked not to be named, said his business had been affected by the incident.

"A woman walked in and she was shaking," he said.

"When these things are happening, they make customers run away.

"Customers seem to have been scared to come since. With Christmas coming up, we need it to be busy.

"I want to move somewhere safer. If the police and council want to help, they can. I'd like to see them make the area a bit nicer."

People mill about in front of shops in Bury New Road

Another business owner described the street as 'the worst part of Manchester'.

He said outbreaks of violence between rival drugs were a regular occurrence.

"I have a business and want it to thrive but it doesn't help if people are fighting outside with baseball bats and machete," he said.

"Is a customer really going to want to buy if someone is getting battered outside the shop?

"The customers who come for the clothes are okay, it's the drugs that are the problem. The drug guys are the ones that are always fighting.

"A guy got stabbed around the corner from here about two months ago.

"There's a wedding hall on this road and I have seen brides and grooms walk out and a fight breaks out somewhere.

"It's better in Strangeways than out here."

He said he believed increased surveillance would help to deter criminal activity in the area.

"It needs a police van parked up on the road for a month straight," the man explained. "They come and everyone disappears then comes back again later.

"They should raid the whole road at once."

Police have carried out a number of raids in the area in recent weeks

Another of the "deep-rooted issues" police have openly admitted exist in the area is harassment on the street.

One young woman recently described walking along Bury New Road as like "running the gauntlet", as the streets have become overrun with groups of 'intimidating men.'

The business owner says he has witnessed men 'catcalling' and 'shouting at women' first hand, while his female colleague said she had been harassed multiple times.

"I won't walk up and down this street," she said. "Once, someone followed me home and was beeping and harassing me.

"Nobody helped me.

"You have to be tough as a woman around here. They are ruthless.

"It's mostly the same guys and they know I work here now so they don't f*** with me.

"You know what to expect when you come to this area. When the girls are shopping, they see it more as banter but some of them can get really bad.

"The police know what is happening but they tend not to do anything about it."

The man said rubbish left in the streets has attracted rats, which does not help the area's image.

"It's a shame because of how close we are to the city centre," he added. "This is a key route into Manchester and it's just ruined and neglected.

"It feels like you're in a different country.

"It needs some investment. If the area doesn't change then I will have to move soon."

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Police have admitted they can’t fix the issues ‘overnight’, but say they are determined to make changes.

Meanwhile, Manchester Council’s new leader Bev Craig says she is keen to clean up the area.

Both authorities are asking locals to help them by reporting drug dealers, pimps and counterfeit crooks via an anonymous phone line.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has two operations in place in the area - Operation Cranium targeting the illegal sale of prescription medication in Cheetham Hill and Strangeways, while Operation Magpie is the force’s response to tackling counterfeit goods.

There is also covert work going on.

Street harassment is dealt with on a case-by-case basis - but may also fall under these operations.

Superintendent Helen Critchley, of GMP's Manchester division, says problems are deep rooted and there is no quick fix.

Police say they can’t fix the issues ‘overnight’, but they are determined to make changes.

“It is important to recognise the longevity of the issues in the area, and this is not something we can fix overnight,” she says.

Supt Critchley said working with partners is a ‘crucial part’ of GMP’s response to the sale of counterfeit medication.

"Working in partnership enhances our enforcement powers and proactive policing capabilities, such as feeding into intelligence gathering, executing warrants and progressing investigations,” she says.

“In addition to the policing side, one of the greatest concerns of illegal drugs is the harm and risk threat when these drugs are being used.

“Working collaboratively and utilising different areas of expertise - particularly when assessing a drugs composition and the degree of harm it can present helps identify any public health issues, allowing us and partners to share threats to the general public from illegal substances and avoid fatalities from new and emerging drugs.”

The Superintendent says the issues of street harassment, drug dealing and counterfeit goods are “all interlinked”.

“Those selling counterfeit goods try to make it difficult for police to identify in passing, so often have shutters down for example,” she says.

“This leads to individuals instigating an offer on the streets as the first stage of buying into these illegal items.

“We have dedicated patrols in place to help identify those responsible and offer reassurance to residents, as well as the ongoing work which falls under Op Cranium and Op Magpie as we look to identify opportunities to shut the shops selling illegal goods down, and remove illegal goods which are in circulation."

Bury New Road is just a stone's throw from the city centre

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council added: “The Council is committed to rooting out anti-social behaviour in Cheetham Hill, and the recent reports of violence and residents feeling unsafe underline just how important this goal is,” they said.

“Over the past two months, this ongoing piece of work with our partners, including GMP, has resulted in two closure orders on premises in the area.

"Both premises were known to be focal points of disorder and criminal activity.

"By targeting the owners of these properties, we aim to get turn the premises into ventures which benefit the local community and it is an important step towards long-term improvement in the area.

“Operation Magpie, which is a concerted effort at exposing and prosecuting people involved in the counterfeit goods trade, continues with both MCC and GMP securing prosecutions against offenders.

“A vitally important element in the Council’s work is gathering intelligence from the community. A Community Safety Advisory Group has been established to provide a link between community groups in the area to the Council and other organisations.

"This group also helps organisations deliver solutions and services which are based within the community, tailored specifically to their needs.

“Also, a safe and confidential line of communication is always open for people who want to report a problem with anti-social behaviour and we would encourage anyone who has information to come forward.”

You can report issues in Cheetham Hill and Strangeways to the council online here https://secure.manchester.gov.uk/forms/form/102/report_anti_social_behaviour via email at: [email protected] or by calling: 0161 234 4612

Reports can be made via GMP’s website through the online reporting tool , or LiveChat, by dialling 101 or reporting anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.