Drugs 'at heart of crime wave among young': Police chiefs told that 93% of offenders in survey used drugs. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
DRUG ABUSE could be at the heart of the explosion in crime and disorder among the young, a chief constable said yesterday. A new survey of young offenders showed that 93 per cent were regular drug users.

The figures proved for the first time the extent of the link between crime and drugs, Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, said at the start of the Association of Chief Police Officers' annual drugs conference.

He said the survey, published yesterday by his force, showed young offenders were spending between pounds 150 and pounds 600 on drugs. Yet more than half of them were unemployed and nearly half had no financial support.

Most of the young people, aged between 15 and 24, in three penal institutions had confessed to researchers that crime was their main source of income. The survey found a 'staggering' 95 per cent had tried drugs and 93 per cent were regular users. However, only 6 per cent had ever been charged with a drug offence.

Mr Hellawell said before he addressed the conference in Preston, Lancashire: 'We are facing substantial increases in crime, in lawlessness and in disorder in this country. I have felt for some time that drugs have been at the heart of it.'

Teenage gangs competing for status with drugs, guns and violence present a threat to public safety in the inner cities, Det Supt David Brennan, head of Greater Manchester Police Drug Squad, warned the conference.

He said that the warring gangs of Manchester's Moss Side dominated their area because they had 'no fear of arrest, prison, injury or death'.

He went on: 'Gangs actually enjoy the buzz that comes from the fear of being shot at or the sense of power in carrying a gun. They love walking around with a gun. They revel in the 'respect' that goes with having money, access to drugs and a gun.'

Since 1990, Mr Brennan said, 27 weapons had been seized in Moss Side; almost half of those had been this year and among them were four automatic weapons. Since August 1992 there had been more than 60 reported shooting incidents, including the murder of Benjamin Stanley, aggravated burglaries and a number of kidnappings. But knifings were still common, he said. He showed the conference a photograph of a drug dealer stabbed to death with knives and a machete.

Describing the way the gangs operate, Mr Brennan said that about 30 individual members had been identified as belonging to the two main Moss Side gangs and a further 60 in the gangs in the Cheetham Hill area, two miles away. The latter were organised on more military lines, wearing uniforms of balaclavas and boiler suits, while the Moss Side gang identified themselves by the colour of their bandanas. A particular new tactic of the gang was 'taxing' a dealer in another gang, taking his drugs and cash and reducing his status.

He said one solution could be to copy the US 'Tactical Narcotics Teams', task forces comprising police, social workers and local authority employees who would identify an area, warn that they were about to mount a clean-up operation and then move in to clear drug dealers and physically repair the streets.