Yardie drug gangs expanding to suburbs and villages, say police

Violent Jamaican drug gangs are expanding their trade in crack cocaine out of London and into white, middle-class suburbs and rural villages, according to one of Britain's most senior police officers.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Coles of the Metropolitan police warned that Yardie criminals, responsible for numerous drug-related murders in the capital, presented the biggest threat to law and order in the UK after terrorism.

Mr Coles, head of Scotland Yard's Operation Trident, which investigates black-on-black killings in the capital, also said that the white middle classes had to accept that the drugs problem was just as much theirs as that of the black community's.

"The Jamaican criminals are entrepreneurs. They will go anywhere where there is a ready market," he said. "Then there is the potential for conflict and shootings. The threat is that we are going to see it all over the place. It is spreading.

"It has moved out of London to all the Home Counties. Next to terrorism, this is the biggest challenge facing police in London, and potentially the rest of the country."

Although Yardie-style gun crime is mainly associated with London, Trident officers have carried out operations in Sussex and East Anglia, Mr Coles said.

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: "Ninety-eight per cent of rural parishes don't have a police station. That can only make it easier for the criminals."

But Mr Coles added: "We also need to focus on prevention. Some of these people think that the type of lifestyle they aspire to can only be gained through drugs."

Operation Trident investigates an average 70 murders a year, a third of the total for all of London.

Jamaican gangs account for more than 40 per cent of the crimes investigated by Operation Trident, while the others are British-born, mainly black, criminals.