Byline: JUSTIN DAVENPORT
CRIME BARONS from different gangs and ethnic groups are forming unprecedented and sophisticated partnerships so they can expand their illicit empires, experts warn.
For years, criminal sectors like the billion-pound-a-year drugs trade have been carefully carved up, with each group specialising in its own lucrative market. Now, in a detailed analysis of Britain's gangland, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) reveals organised gangs are becoming increasingly businesslike as they expand their illicit activities.
The NCIS report, entitled The United Kingdom Threat Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime, comes as the flow of heroin and cocaine into London is booming as never before. The street price of heroin has fallen to an all-time low, while the use of both drugs is increasing on London's massive club scene.
In London and the South-East, 80 per cent of top-level gangsters are engaged in the drug trade, mainly heroin, cocaine and ecstasy. The report describes how Yardie gangs are making deals with Turkish groups responsible for importing most of Britain's heroin.
However human trafficking and frauds such as cigarette smuggling are named as the two main growth crimes among Britain's 800-odd organised crime groups, 400 of which are based in London. White crime families are cooperating with Chinese Snakehead gangs to cash in on illegal immigration.
The report warns that the threat from gangs of Eastern European origin is also rising. Albanian and Lithuanian groups are increasingly linked with organised prostitution in the capital.
One police source said: "These groups are becoming more businesslike, willing to share resources and expertise. They are more sophisticated and flexible and switch from commodity to commodity depending on the risk factor or the profits to be made. It is making it much more difficult to detect their activities."
Gangs use professionals such as lawyers and accountants, and even former police officers to advise on security, the report says.
Violence can be used to enforce discipline. One in seven groups is known to have threatened or carried out murder last year. However, most avoid inter-gang rivalries for fear of attracting police attention.
The exception is African-Caribbean gangs, with feuds between these groups in 1999/2000 leading to 33 deaths and 70 injuries in and around London.
The report points to a surge in the use of imitation guns to threaten violence. Intriguingly the replica gun industry has doubled in size since 1999.
Peter Lowton, head of the NCIS South-East section, said: "Most people don't think organised crime affects them. But most gangs deal in drugs and drugs fuel violent crime and burglary. We are having success against the gangs but it is an ongoing battle."
DRUGS Two-thirds of all criminal gangs traffic drugs, and the trade remains highly profitable despite falling street prices. The demand for heroin and cocaine in the UK, particularly London, is growing, but increasingly police find traffickers are handling a range of drugs imported in "cocktail" loads, rather than specialising in one type. …