The Triads, the secret Chinese gangs which collectively control one of the biggest criminal empires in the world, have arrived at Britain's schoolgates.
They have assembled street gangs of teenage youths, some of them excluded from school, who will respond at the call of a mobile phone to a request to carry out acts of violence or harassment.
Police have been shocked by the development. One officer on the Lawrence inquiry said: "At first I didn't believe it. You are talking about groups of 13- to 15-year-olds out on the streets with mobile phones, being given briefings on how to sort out the opposition."
Youngsters are recruited at the school-gates with the promise of martial arts training and are enticed by the lure of the secret ceremonies of the older Triads.
Recruits are asked to put a membership fee of pounds 3.60 in an envelope and write their name and address and telephone number on the back. They are then "on the list", free to be called up at any time to carry out the demands of the Big Brother. Once the gang members have been rounded up, they meet at a pre-arranged location - usually the arcades around Piccadilly, Euston or King's Cross - where they are briefed and organised into groups.
The uniform of the young gang members is bandannas or baseball caps, baggy trousers and loose shirts which can easily conceal weapons. Senior members of the gang favour designer labels and, throughout the trial, it was implied that the more designer clothes you wore the more respect you commanded from other gang members.
Woo Sang Wu (WSW), the youth Triad involved in the attack on Philip Lawrence, is linked to the Wo Shing Wo adult Triad. During the summer of 1995 the WSW fought regular pre-organised fights at the Trocadero, in the West End of London, with another gang attached to the 14K Triad.
But the primary purpose of the youth Triad is to extort money from restaurant owners or shopkeepers. One teenage Triad member told The Independent how he was asked by the leader of his gang to empty a bucket of human excrement over the windows of a north London Chinese restaurant. "The owner didn't take the hint," said the 15-year-old, "so we went back in a week later, scoffed our faces and left without paying, kicking a few tables over on the way out."
The violence can be more extreme. Learco Chindamo was present when his friend Bernard Enerio, 17, another member of the WSW, was involved in the stabbing of John Mills, the husband of the director of public prosecutions.
Mr Mills was set upon by a gang of six youths as he arrived home in Camden, north London. He told the Inner London Crown Court that his wife Barbara found him on their doorstep "dripping with blood". Enerio was sentenced in December to six years' youth detention for his part in the stabbing.
Despite the Lawrence trial, which has effectively smashed the WSW, the youth Triads continue to give cause for alarm.
Membership is not restricted to the Chinese. The WSW was multi-racial and Filipino-led. In Croydon, south London, there are believed to be 100 youth Triad members and adult Triad activity is reported in Glasgow, Manchester and other cities.Reuse content