Drugs blamed for huge rise in murder rate

Merseyside police say beat bobbies are no solution. Jonathan Foster rep orts `The amount of money available from drug dealing makes it worth killing'
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The Independent Online
The murder rate virtually doubled in Merseyside during 1994 as the sale and use of drugs generated a violent culture which police say may have become intractable. Officers also claim that the problem is being made increasingly difficult to solve b ecauseof the Government's belief in bobbies on the beat.

The stabbing of Wayne Waller on Christmas Eve was the 28th killing Merseyside police investigated, an 87 per cent increase in homicide offences compared with 1993.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ray Walker, head of Merseyside CID, said that the figures reinforced a belief prevalent among officers that drugs were directly or implicitly responsible.

"In a jungle, violence is probably the only method of settling disputes," Chief Supt Walker said.

"I know I am not going to get any more staff. The Government has placed the focus on high visibility policing as demanded by the public.

"I would take a lot of convincing that high visibility policing - putting bobbies on the beat - is going to be efficient. It gives the public a comfort zone. But high visibility policing and crime detection do not sit together - serious crime will not get looked at."

Merseyside detectives have brought charges, or concluded investigations, in all but two of the killings they investigated last year.

None of the cases was as emotionally charged as the killing which drew international attention to the area in 1993. The abduction and murder by two 10-year-old boys of James Bulger, aged two, prompted commentators to speculate on dark, menacing forces germinating in post-industrial society.

The Bulger case was linked inconclusively to a gamut of criminal themes, but not drugs. The largely anonymous victims of 1994 homicides may be more representative of trends in society than James's killing, Chief Supt Walker believes.

"There has been a huge increase in cases where violence has been the aftermath of either use of drugs, or selling drugs," he said.

"In any murder investigation, you have to establish a trust with the victim's family, friends or associates. In drugs-related cases, that trust is difficult, sometimes impossible to establish.

"There are no guarantees they will talk to the police. Even worse, they will talk to you, but not give evidence; or they will change their story in the witness box; or they disappear."

The Merseyside force has pioneered strategies which encourage addicts to manage their habits as healthily as possible while concentrating police resources on the hierarchy of drugs dealing. Its success has been reflected in a low rate of HIV infection, but those controlling the trade in drugs have continued to accumulate wealth, Chief Supt Walker said.

"I see them getting richer, becoming millionaires, and becoming legitimised. If we allow people with that sort of power to dominate others, we shall create monsters.

"The stakes are so high, and they got higher in 1994. The amount of money available from a reasonable level of drug dealing makes it worthwhile to kill for. These people are not going to complain to the police if they get ripped-off."

The implications for policing have already led to consideration of "decriminalisation" of soft drugs. Murderous consequences of the drugs trade could include formation in areas like Merseyside of specialist homicide squads.

"We have to prioritise. I'd like to think the 1994 figures are a blip on the screen. But, if it is not, we will have to carry out more very intricate, sensitive investigations.

"If you're putting bobbies on the street, it will be at the expense of crime detection."