Russian gangs 'pose threat to British cities': Police fear weapons from eastern Europe are being off-loaded on UK black market

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The Independent Online
ORGANISED crime gangs from the former Soviet bloc represent a greater threat to Britain than the combined effects of the Mafia, Colombian cartels and the triads, a senior police officer warned yesterday.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner David Veness said: 'In five years' time there is no doubt that the major threat confronting the inner cities of the United Kingdom will come from central, eastern European and Russian countries.'

Mr Veness, who is in charge of the counter-organised crime sections at Scotland Yard, said that activities of such gangs in drug trafficking, arms smuggling and money laundering would be greater than the collective impact of existing organised crime.

Speaking to senior police officers and justice officials at a conference on organised crime at the Police Staff College at Bramshill, Hampshire, he said it could take only a small influx of weaponry to turn Britain into a more violent society and lead to fully armed police forces.

'We are particularly vulnerable among all the western European nations,' he said outside the conference hall. Crime in Britain was a largely unarmed affair targeted at property but only a small influx could tip the balance. 'Even a little amount of spillage from eastern Europe will be felt on the streets of central London.'

Mr Veness said regional crime squad officers had made a small number of seizures of weapons - including semi-automatic AK 47s - which had been off-loaded by eastern European gangs on to the black market in Britain. The weapons, believed to stem from the former Soviet army, were being sold for hundreds of pounds. Mr Veness who has recently returned from a trip to Moscow and St Petersburg, said the situation was in 'chaos', with more than 100 Russian police officers killed this year.

He believes the immediate threat comes from the eastern European states of the former Soviet bloc and European Russia; in the longer term the threat would come from the Asian areas of Russia and the Asian states of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Mr Veness also criticised recent decisions by courts, which have placed an obligation on the police to disclose all their material to the defence, as 'a gift to the godfathers'.

Senior officers are concerned that the reason for disclosure requested in many cases is only to obtain details of police informants, and have abandoned prosecutions rather than disclose their sources. They are seeking greater powers to protect the identities of informants.

Detective Inspector Graham Saltmarsh, head of the organised Crime Unit at the National Criminal Intelligence Service, said that the obstacles being presented by the criminal justice system meant that the police should concentrate on 'preventive operations' rather than arrest and prosecution.

He told the conference: 'The goal of a covert preventive operation is either to prevent the crime occurring at all, or to prevent harm if it does, by using every lawful means at our disposal, often clandestinely, to seek to limit, inhibit or block the capacity to carry out criminal enterprise operations successfully.'