Armed drug gangs 'on the rise'

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S cities are seeing the rise of a new type of gang system influenced by the lucrative drugs trade and accompanied by extreme violence, a chief constable has warned.

West Yorkshire Chief Constable Keith Hellawell believes that, for the first time since criminal gangs such as the Krays reigned in the Sixties, an American-style gang is emerging.

This new breed is not confined to city boundaries and will travel nationwide to muscle in on local drugs markets. Seven of the last eight shootings in the Moss Side district of Manchester were by gunmen from outside the city, while a fatal shooting in the St Paul's district of Bristol is believed by detectives to have been by outsiders.

Mr Hellawell, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) spokesman on drugs, said: "What is happening with drugs is that there is so much money involved we are seeing the embryo of a new type of gang system. There will be turf warfare."

Acpo has been studying organised crime and recently took the first steps towards formulating a policy to tackle gang warfare and take policing into the 21st century. Mr Hellawell said: "While criminals are fighting each other for control, it is easier for the police. Once they stop doing that and if they develop supremacy and a clear leader emerges, the common enemy becomes the police."

Mr Hellawell, who spent time in the US and studied the gang system in Los Angeles, believes gangs in British inner cities are not as large or organised, nor is there the same discipline and control, but a much looser structure. But he warned: "In Britain they are 15 years down the road, but once they are organised and take on the police, that is when they move towards the American system."

While greater co-operation between forces could feature in the Acpo recommendations, Mr Hellawell points out that his force's drugs-squad officers are currently involved in five major inquiries with counterparts from other forces. Recently West Yorkshire liaised with Greater Manchester to tackle drug dealers from the city attempting to deal drugs in Leeds.

In a disturbing example of the new trend, detectives in Bristol are investigating the murder of Evon Berry, a caretaker at a community centre shot dead when he tried to intervene in a street mugging. Mr Berry's misfortune was to confront gunmen from out of town looking to take on the gangs who controlled the drugs market in the notorious St Paul's district.

It has emerged that these men, believed to be from Manchester and the West Midlands, have been involved in a range of crime over two months that included armed robberies and arape. None of these crimes was reported to police as the criminals involved sought to settle the dispute among themselves.

But the night before Mr Berry's New Year's Day shooting, an anonymous call to police had reported armed men in the Millionaire Club on the edge of St Paul's, where they had attempted to rob the bars. The police were reluctant to close down an illegal all-night party in such a sensitive area.

The death of Mr Berry, who had no links with drugs, shows the ruthlessness of those involved. Local drug dealers admit to being out of their depth.