British gangs and guns bring terror to Ibiza

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The Independent Online

Authorities have voiced fears that a new and more dangerous breed of criminal is operating on the island of Ibiza after a week in which police launched a series of raids against British drug gangs.

The Guardia Civil, working with British police, has made 13 arrests and seized computer equipment, drugs and weapons.

The crackdown followed a recent shooting in which two holidaymakers from Northern Ireland were wounded in crossfire between British drug gangs.

Gareth Richardson and Niall Hamilton were coming to the end of what should have been a great night out in Ibiza's party capital, San Antonio. But as the two teenagers fromade their way home from the Garden of Eden nightclub at the end of last month, they were caught in a hail of bullets as gunmen in two cars traded shots.

Mr Richardson, 18, from Bangor, Co. Down, was shot in the chest but incredibly, escaped without serious injury. His friend, Niall Hamilton, 19, from Holywood, was shot in the face. He was recovering in a hospital on the island after an operation to remove a bullet from his jaw.

The driver of one of the cars, who is from Liverpool, was also recovering from serious gunshot wounds to the chest. Spanish police arrested several people, among them three Britons and a number of Moroccans.

It is the first time that British gangs have resorted to such violence in Ibiza.

The Spanish and British police announced a joint operation to monitor any known criminals operating in Ibiza, Majorca and Minorca. Desperate not to let the gun battle scare off the clubbers who visit the island every year , Spain was anxious to act quickly.

Ramón Socías, a spokesman for the Balearic Islands regional government, said a number of British police would be posted to the islands to try to stop wanted criminals operating.

He added: "We want to put a stop the image of Ibiza as a place where anything goes and there is no law." Paul Abrey, the British consul general in the Balearics, said: "We hope these actions will hope to reduce the level of violence in the islands and we hope the message will get through to the tourist industry in Britain."

A Foreign Office source said: "This is the first time we have seen British gangs using violence of this kind in Ibiza." Spanish police seemed equally shocked. A spokesman said: "They were shooting with no regard for tourists and passers-by."

Gareth Richardson's father, Tommy, said: "He is OK but he is still in a lot of pain as he has two wounds in his chest where the bullet entered and exited.

"It's startling to think you could walk out of a nightclub looking for a bit of food and walk into a hail of bullets.

"None of the lads are involved in drugs at all but it seems a big problem here."

The shooting follows the arrest last month of three Britons on board yachts in Ibiza and Denia, near Benidorm on the Costa Blanca, in connection with a £25m cocaine smuggling ring.

An estimated half a million Britons visit Ibiza every year. The days of the island's clubbing heyday are long gone, replaced by a hard-nosed business culture of expensive, highly commercial clubs typified by international brands such as the Pacha chain.

The drugs trade has mirrored that change, becoming big business, run by serious operators, to serve holidaymakers' needs.

If a more worrying type of British criminal is now behind the drugs trade in Ibiza, it is simply a symbol of what has happened elsewhere in Spain. Gone are the days of the so-called Costa del Crime, where retired "cons" would seek refuge from the long arm of British justice and spend their "retirement" running bars or improving their tans.

Now it is home to a new and altogether more frightening generation of British villains. Last year, two notorious drug barons were captured on the Costa del Sol. And Interpol said some of Britain's most wanted have moved there to run their empires.