Clubbers dance to bouncers' drug-trade tune

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ORGANISED criminals are employing bouncers to sell drugs and using violence to collect "taxes" from other doormen and dealers operating in clubs and pubs, a Home Office study reported yesterday.

The research uncovered direct links between bouncers, criminals and drug dealing, and found corrupt security companies operating a "control the doors, control the floors" strategy. The findings of the study, which examined the use of bouncers in Merseyside and Northumbria, will add pressure on the Home Office to introduce legislation to control the unregulated and booming door- supervisor industry.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has been criticised for dragging his feet on the issue.

Despite repeated promises to regulate the industry, the Home Office has merely carried out a second consultation exercise and insisted that action will follow.

The report, Clubs, Drugs and Doormen, carried out by the Home Office's Police Research Group, provides compelling evidence of the widespread illegal activities of bouncers and their bosses. It said that bouncers were involved in drug dealing in a number of ways.

"Staff may simply turn a blind eye to dealing activity, receive payment in return for permitting dealing on the premises, or act as dealers themselves."

Some bouncers held a stock of drugs which they distributed to dealers working in the clubs once stocks were sold. Women dealers were becoming increasingly popular as they are less likely to be searched.

A study of Liverpool found that well-organised criminals ran a security firm that used violence and bribery to take over the bouncers at clubs and pubs who then controlled the drug supply.

In Newcastle criminals were not so closely involved and were more likely to "tax" bouncers and approved drug dealers who operated in the clubs.

A council door-registration scheme in Newcastle, in which bouncers have to be approved and trained, was praised, but researchers said it was not a panacea and did not prevent all drug dealing.

The expanding dance market, in pubs, clubs, and warehouses, provides criminals with an opportunity to make huge profits.

A survey last year found that 90 per cent of 517 people in London questioned at dance events said they planned to take drugs that evening. About half were going to take cannabis and ecstasy, about 40 per cent amphetamines, and 16 per cent LSD.

Among the recommendations in yesterday's report was for the police to use more undercover teams in clubs, to find out more about bouncer's drug- dealing techniques and to monitor the men behind security companies providing doormen.

A scheme at the Ministry of Sound club in London, where half the bouncers are hired from the West Midlands and a code of conduct has been drawn up, was also praised as helping drive out criminals.

Local authorities were recommended to set up more doormen-registration schemes and enforce health and safety regulations.

New powers for local authorities to close down clubs immediately where drugs were found to be sold are to come into power in May.

Clubs, Drugs and Doormen is available free from the Home Office, Fax 0171 273 4001

The Liverpool and Newcastle experience

ORGANISED criminals were found to have infiltrated the pub and club scene in Merseyside to sell drugs. One security company operated a "control the doors, control the floors" approach to the distribution of drugs. It moved into Liverpool by buying up existing bouncers with cash bribes or using violence and intimidation against those who refused to co-operate.

The firm's bouncers either sold the drugs to club- and pub-goers directly or took a cut from the doormen.

During a period between January 1995 to December 1996 police inquiries identified 49 bouncers working in Merseyside who were known to them. Nine had convictions for drug offences, one director had a conviction for drug production. A head doorman at one club was facing a charge of conspiracy to supply. Twenty-eight of the men had convictions for violence including two murders and three attempted murders. The police arrested and jailed three of the men in charge of the company, but within a year a new firm, containing several members of the old one, was operating in Merseyside, Manchester, Warrington, and Southport.

The connection between drugs and bouncers in Newcastle is not as acute as in Liverpool, yet police believe about one in 10 of the estimated 1,200 doormen are involved in crime.

Drug dealers and criminals rely on "intimidation and extreme violence" to force doormen to pay them a "tax" and to allow approved dealers into the clubs and pubs. At least 38 doormen are known by the police. Twenty- five have been convicted of violence, including murder.