Seventeen held in police crackdown on city nightlife scene

`Protection rackets are being run on pubs all over Merseyside'
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Seventeen people, including the chairwoman of Liverpool City Council's licensing committee, were arrested yesterday as part of a police investigation into a clubland war between rival bouncers.

Firearms, drugs and more than £30,000 were seized as police launched 32 simultaneous dawn raids on homes in three counties and two Liverpool nightclubs.

Bouncers and the doormen agencies in Merseyside are being investigated for drug-dealing, extortion, arson, kidnapping, witness intimidation, running protection rackets and burglary.

Among those arrested yesterday was Frances Kidd, a long serving Labour councillor, who also has a part-time job as a book-keeper for a local security firm. Three directors of Liverpool security firms are understood to have been arrested.

The raids were the culmination of a year-long investigation, called Operation Aladdin, into Liverpool's night life.

About 200 officers, mainly from Merseyside, were involved in the raids. Officers in Northumberland and Cheshire raided addresses in their areas.

The operation was set up at the beginning of last year to tackle an upsurge in violence which was also spilling on to the streets. The police found that rival groups of bouncers were fighting to keep control of the pubs and night-clubs where many deal drugs and extort protection money.

In one incident last March, police were called to a car park at a city sports centre were they found two bouncers in a bare-knuckle fight, surrounded by about 40 doormen. The men, who were representing two rival gangs, were fighting over a disputed nightlife pitch. The police recovered a large number of guns, knives and other weapons. Since then there have been several more illegal "prize-fights".

In the most recent incident, early on Christmas Day, two doormen were injured after being shot outside a city centre club; two men have been charged with attempted murder. Earlier in the month another two bouncers were stabbed.

The fights are part of a bitter war being waged to maintain control of the clubs and pubs. It is through their position as doormen that they sell drugs or allow dealers into the establishments for a fee or cut of the profits. They are also accused of extorting money from pub and club owners.

Witnesses who have been willing to testify have been intimidated, police say.

Detective Inspector Tom Purcell, of Merseyside police's serious crime squad, who headed the 20 strong police team in Operation Aladdin, said: "There are a number of people who provide doormen. Some of these [bouncers] have been involved in fights to takeover the door and to organise drug-dealing. Protection rackets are also being run on pubs all over Merseyside.

"The doormen are often body-builders. Some deal in drugs. They have no qualms about committing violence on anyone who might cross them or give evidence against them."

Liverpool is well known for its lively pub and club scene which is boosted by the 20,000 students who live in the city. Many of the pubs, particularly the large city-centre outlets, have extended opening hours - often to midnight or 1am. There is also a large rave-club scene which is exploited by the drug dealers.

Ms Kidd's solicitor, Rex Makin, said: "She completely refutes the allegations. The whole procedure has been outrageous. There's no reason why this councillor, against whom there's no shred of evidence, should have been subjected to a swoop reminiscent ofthe Third Reich.

"There's no reason why they could not have asked her to attend the police station and asked questions in a civil manner.

"The way this matter has been handled is a nonsense reminiscent of an operation 20 years ago against club doormen which resulted in the acquittal of all those charged."