Missing couple feared killed by drugs dealers: Police examine ashes for human remains as search leads to woodland site

A MERSEYSIDE couple missing for five weeks are believed to have been murdered and their bodies burnt or buried after becoming involved in drugs dealing, police said yesterday.

The disclosure follows the murders in London over the weekend of two Jamaican men involved in drugs dealing. The London killings, one of which involved up to 15 shots, could be connected. The murders follow repeated warnings from senior police officers of an escalation in drugs- related violence.

Gary Pettitt, 25, and Jean Larkins, 24, who ran a company selling window blinds, have not been seen since 27 April when they left their flat in Aigburth, Liverpool, with the television on and their dog unfed.

Detectives said that Mr Pettitt had left the flat for a rendezvous in a restaurant in Chorley, Lancashire, 30 miles away. 'Mr Pettitt was not previously known to the police, but we believe he became involved in drugs dealing and got out his depth,' Detective Chief Inspector John Kerruish, of Merseyside police, said.

Yesterday, police began digging for their bodies in woods at Coppull, three miles from Chorley. Jewellery belonging to the couple was found there and witnesses saw a van marked 'Calypso Blinds', which belonged to the couple, parked nearby at the time of their disappearance. The van was later found at Manchester airport.

Samples from a fire in the thicket are being examined to establish whether the couple or their clothes could have been burnt. Two men in camouflage clothing were seen camping there. Two vehicles were also seen in the area, a brown Rover saloon and a silver Honda Accord, believed to come from Newcastle and Gateshead. On Sunday, detectives discovered the Rover in Barry, South Glamorgan; the Honda is still missing.

On Saturday, detectives charged a man and women in Liverpool following the discovery of pounds 100,000 worth of the drug ecstasy in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Three people have also been arrested and charged at Coppull following the discovery of a rifle and two shotguns; a sixth person had been charged with cannabis offences.

In London, detectives investigating the murders of David Edwards, 26, and Chris Bourne, 34, said drugs gangs were turning parts of south London into the Wild West. The killings are believed to stem from crack-fuelled rivalry between gangs of Yardies, criminals from Jamaica.

Mr Edwards, known as a small time dealer, died from a single shot to the heart at his home in Norwood, south London, on Friday night. Three men were seen running away.

Twenty-four hours later, Mr Bourne, an illegal immigrant sought for a series of drugs-elated armed robberies, was gunned down at a squat in Brixton three miles away. Mr Bourne was hit three times but at least 15 shots were fired from three weapons. The scene was 'like the gunfight at the OK Corral', one detective said. A revolver was recovered, believed to have belonged to Mr Bourne.

The dead man had twice been deported to Jamaica; he entered the country again in February this year when he escaped from immigration officers at Birmingham airport.

There are believed to have been six Yardie deaths this year and police have complained that specialist anti-crack units have been wound down.