Yardie gangsters take crack cocaine to Cambridge

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The Independent Online

At just after 2pm on Thursday, a white van stopped in front of a low rise block of flats. Inside the unmarked vehicle were six members of a police tactical fire- arms unit, kitted out with bullet- and stab-proof armour, balaclavas and helmets.

At just after 2pm on Thursday, a white van stopped in front of a low rise block of flats. Inside the unmarked vehicle were six members of a police tactical fire- arms unit, kitted out with bullet- and stab-proof armour, balaclavas and helmets.

The rear doors were flung open and the officers stormed up three flights of stairs and smashed their way into one of the flats using a small battering ram known as an "enforcer". Two men in the filthy accommodation were overpowered and handcuffed. The floor was littered with syringes, and a pair of scales for weighing drugs was seized.

The council flat was a suspected crack den, used by Jamaican "Yardies" and British drug dealers to sell the highly addictive form of cocaine.

But this raid, the third in the area as many days, was not in one of London's crack hotspots, such as Clapton or Brixton, but the genteel city of Cambridge. The unthinkable has happened – the Yardies have come to Cambridge.

Among the ornate pinnacles, tourist-filled streets, and the willow-lined river Cam with its student punters, is a new and unexpected threat to the city and its residents.

The university city and its environs is the latest area of Britain to come under attack from the danger drug. Dealers apparently believe it is a soft target.

The highly addictive nature of the cocaine derivative, which provides an intense but shortlived high, has led to addicts going on extended crime sprees. The Yardie gangsters, and the British dealers who like to imitate them, are notorious for their willingness to use firearms and violence. In London more than 20 people have been murdered and dozens wounded in the past year in crack shootings.

Alarmed at the growing evidence of crack dealers moving from London and the south coast to Cambridge, the county's police force has set up Operation Ortolan.

Detective Inspector Paul Fulwood, who saw a sharp rise in crack houses in Brighton when he worked there as head of the drugs squad, is in charge of the operation.

He said: "These are B-class criminals who have come up here for what they think are easy pickings. We also have good evidence that the crack dealing is going out to the villages surrounding Cambridge.

"We want to stamp it out before it escalates and you start seeing a major increase in firearms incidents, crime and violence. These people are not untouchable."

The police have had some success. Rupert Foster, was jailed for six years last Tuesday for dealing crack in Cambridge. Foster, 23, was chased through the city last November and caught with 71 wraps of crack cocaine. Foster, who came to the UK from Jamaica four years ago, was caught on a second occasion near a Cambridgeshire village with 100 drug wraps of crack and heroin.

Cambridgeshire Police have now raided about 10 alleged crack houses. Thursday's raid followed complaints to the council about discarded syringes, late-night visits by addicts, and blood splattered stairwells caused by injections that have gone wrong.

The police are concentrating on about five crack gangs, all either British Afro-Caribbean or Jamaican. When the dealers first move to Cambridge, say the police, they tend to concentrate their efforts on single mothers with a pre-existing drug habit, and start providing them with crack.

The women fall into debt and the dealers take over their homes and use them to sell the drugs. One female addict who upset the dealers is believed to have been raped and another badly beaten as a punishment and a warning to others.

Acting Detective Superintendent David Beck, who has overall control of Operation Ortolan, said: "We don't have a large Afro-Caribbean population in Cambridge so they do stand out and the community are very ready to ring in and tell us where drug dealing is going on." Instead of concentrating on blocks of council flats, the crack dealers have been operating in some desirable areas of the city.

One suspected crack house raided by police was operating from a semi-detached house in an attractive estate about a mile from Cambridge city centre. The tree-lined road, with well-tended gardens and neatly cut grass verges, is a long way from the image of a squalid crack den. Det Supt Beck said the huge student population appeared to be unaffected by the crack problem. "But it would be naive to think this couldn't change in the future."

Costing from £15 to £20 a "rock" in Cambridge, the drug is usually smoked, although some addicts are injecting it.

The arrival of crack has already caused a rise in shoplifting, car crime, and burglary by addicts looking for money to pay for their habits.

The effect crack addicts can have on the community was illustrated in May by the case of a burglar aged 25 who committed more than 230 crimes in six months in Cambridge. During that period Andrew Clay was responsible for about a fifth of all the burglaries in the city. In total he stole property worth £164,000 to pay for a habit costing from £100 to £300 a day. He was jailed for four and a half years.

Drug agencies in the city report a marked increase in clients using crack cocaine in the past 18 months, mostly men in their 20s and 30s. Younger people are also getting hooked. Cambridgeshire Youth Offending Service is treating a girl aged 13 who is taking crack more than once a week.

Other casualties in Cambridge are the children of addicts. About a dozen children whose parents are crack cocaine addicts have been taken into care since last autumn.

Cheryl Hodgson, team manager of Cambridgeshire County Council's Children and Families Team, said: "We have parents who do abuse other substances but are still able to make a go of it, maintain their purpose and look after their children. But we have been staggered at the difference as soon as crack cocaine comes on the scene. Relationships between families and ourselves have broken down very quickly."