Britain and drugs: doctors say cannabis can cure you, while our worst crack war erupts in London

Rival gangsters are waging what may be Britain's worst drugs war in a small area of London. The police officer heading the inquiry tells Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, that the death toll is likely to rise.
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The Independent Online
Gun warfare involving Jamaican-style "Yardie" criminals in London is threatening to escalate, a senior detective warned yesterday.

He said that a disturbing upsurge in the number of young drug dealers carrying guns has been partly to be blame for a spate of murders in the north-west of the capital. Fifty-two people have been killed in the area this year, including two this week, compared with 34 in the whole of 1996. Last week two unarmed officers were shot at seven times on a council estate in the north-west.

The rise in the use of firearms by criminals involved in drugs mirrors problems experienced in other cities, notably Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.

Detective Superintendent Colin Hardingham, who is heading an inquiry into four murders in north-west London, warned yesterday that a gun culture was rapidly growing among a group of young black men who were mimicking traits of the violent Jamaican gangsters, known as Yardies.

He said: "It seems to be the thing to have a gun. Just as business people in the city wear a suit, these characters carry a gun or have access to one.

"Many of the young black kids will call themselves Yardies, but they don't have any real links. It's just a status thing - its a term that is used to frighten people.

"The culture is committed to drugs. It's predominately crack cocaine which is where the money is.

He described the gangs as "very loose knit. They fall out with each other". He said that rival groups were based in various areas of London. "Some murders have spilled out to other parts of London and this looks to be a growing problem," he said. He added that most of the "Yardies" were aged from 18 to 25 and preferred automatic handguns.

In response to the escalating violence in the north-west of the capital, Scotland Yard is stepping up the number of 24-hour car patrols containing armed officers in Kilburn and advising all policemen and women to wear heavy body armour while on duty in that sector.

The violence has been concentrated on the areas of Kilburn, Willesden and Harlesden. This year there have been 15 murders in Kilburn and 25 shooting incidents. Last year, there were 121 murders in London; provisional figures for this year reveal that there have been 135 killings so far.

Det Supt Hardingham stressed that the 52 murders in the north-west area include non-drug killings, such as domestic disputes, and that where gangsters were involved, the attacks were not random, but planned. In the latest incident, Marcus Charles, 22, was killed as he left a council estate in Kilburn on Tuesday night.