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Club doormen fight for Liverpool's drug market

Bouncers in Liverpool spoke yesterday about their knowledge of Merseyside's world of drugs and violence following a police crackdown on nightclubs and pubs in Merseyside.

Eighteen people were arrested in a series of dawn raids on Wednesday by detectives investigating a war between rival gangs of bouncers.

Several groups of bouncers, or doormen as they prefer to be called, are accused of using violence to control Liverpool's clubland, where they are allegedly involved in drug dealing and extortion.

Many of the doormen in Liverpool's bars were reluctant to talk about the arrests of their colleagues, because of the nature of the allegations.

But one, who worked on the door of one of the busiest rave clubs in Liverpool, said: "You get people bringing drugs in to sell to the punters. The guys on the door try to stop the dealing, and eventually they are taken to one side and told that they willbe `done over' if they try to interfere, and they don't just mean a little slap around. The gangs then push out the regular doormen and put their own men in so they control the deals that are going on and deals themselves as well."

The police crackdown followed a year-long investigation, known as Operation Aladdin, into the wave of violence that has erupted in Liverpool. Last month four bouncers were either shot or stabbed in the city.

In Matthew Street, where a statue of the Beatles marks the site of the Cavern club, a doorman, who works at a club which has had no problems with the police, spoke of his experience when he was at an all-night rave club in another part of the city. The news of the arrests did not surprise him. There used to be an assumption that the main clientele of the rave clubs are teenagers intent on a night of dancing, but it seems this is not the case. "A lot of the customers are in their mid-thirties with a lot of money to spend. They're not interested in dancing - they just know where to come for their stuff."

When he and other doormen tried to stop the dealing, they received a visit from a 30-strong gang "They told us, `Sorry lads you are out of work,' then they put their men on the door and that was that, you either keep your mouth shut or take a hiding fromthem. I'm only trying to earn a living so I got out and came here."

Some of the bouncers questioned believe they are misunderstood and have unfairly obtained a bad reputation. One said: "People only see us as bad guys. We are doing a job that's necessary and people forget that. They never see the positive side like carrying people in wheelchairs up the steps, just an image of bad guys working as bouncers, and this case doesn't help."

Merseyside police are pleased with the success of Operation Aladdin, claiming that they have arrested the organisers of the drug dealing as well as the men who control the doors. But the consensus among the doormen in Liverpool was that this is only a temporary setback for the dealers. One said: "There is too much money to be made and even if they lock these guys up there are plenty more to take their place.

"The guys who are moving in aren't idiots. They have seen what's going on and they want a bigger slice of it."

Among those arrested on Wednesday was Frances Kidd, the chairwoman of Liverpool City Council's licensing committee and a former part-time book-keeper for a private security firm.

She was given police bail yesterday pending further inquiries. She strongly denies any allegations of wrongdoing.

One man was charged with possessing a gun and ammunition and two other men were charged with possession of a small amount of drugs.

Another 12 are expected to be charged with a range of offences including arson, kidnap, conspiracy to defraud, false imprisonment and assault, conspiracy to supply drugs and to pervert the course of justice.