Met blames drug gangs for big rise in kidnappings

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The Independent Online

Crime gangs are increasingly turning to kidnapping as a way of making money, with one ransom demand being made every week in London, a senior Scotland Yard detective revealed yesterday.

Crime gangs are increasingly turning to kidnapping as a way of making money, with one ransom demand being made every week in London, a senior Scotland Yard detective revealed yesterday.

Armed robbery is also making a comeback with the emergence of a new breed of young street criminal who has progressed to bank, betting shop, and security van hold-ups.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Coles, who is head of the Metropolitan Police's 400-strong Serious and Organised Crime Squad, believes the rise in the two crimes is partly because criminals mistakenly believe police are understaffed, demoralised, and "on the back foot".

Det Ch Supt Coles said the number of cases of kidnapping in the capital rose last year by 500 per cent. He said 60 per cent of the kidnaps this year have involved drug gangs trying to extort money from the families of rival dealers and addicts in debt.

About 30 kidnaps have been reported to the Met so far this year, compared with 72 reported to the National Criminal Intelligence Service for the whole of Britain in 1999, which was almost twice as many as the previous year. Det Ch Supt Coles said: "We deal with about one a week, whereas before it was one every two or three months."

Most incidents this year have been by drug gangs - known as "bad on bad" - who demand ransoms ranging from £500 to £20,000 from the families of their captives. "In some cases they are prepared to go the full hog and kill the victim," said Det Ch Supt Coles.

Last year a large part of the kidnap problem was caused by Chinese "Snakehead" gangs, who are paid to smuggle Chinese immigrants into Britain, then kidnap them and demand ransoms from their families.Last year about 60 per cent of the kidnap cases were linked to Snakeheads, but so far this year there has only been one incident. Police believe many of the gangs have moved to other cities with big Chinese populations following a successful crackdown on their activities in the capital.

Det Ch Supt Coles added that "traditional" kidnaps in which criminals hold the member of a rich family ransom happen only "once in a blue moon".

Another trend identified by the police squad is a move by young street robbers into more serious armed crime. Det Ch Supt Coles explained: "Some of the street robbers have jumped the league to other types of commercial premises at a much earlier age than in the past."

Bank and building society robbers and raids on security vans carrying cash have increased by more than 70 per cent in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period last year. Armed robberies in London rose from 1,019 in the year ending April 1999 to 1,410 the following year.

Det Ch Supt Coles said: "The villains think we are under-resourced... but they are under a misconception... We have a 100 per cent clear-up rate of kidnaps reported to us."

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