Sunday, 8 April 2001

Drug gangs' spate of turf war killings

Special report: drugs in Britain
Tony Thompson, crime correspondent
The Observer, Sunday 8 April 2001
Drug barons from two of Britain's most crime-ridden cities - Liverpool and Glasgow - have forged an uneasy alliance to traffic millions of pounds worth of heroin, ecstasy and cocaine across the UK and Ireland.
Last week, four Scots, a Liverpudlian and an Irishman were arrested in Dublin following a bloody street battle with gardai. Several police officers were injured. The gang, which had been under observation for three months, included notorious members of the Liverpool and Glasgow underworld. They were caught with six kilos of heroin worth more than £2.5 million.
The seizure - the largest in Dublin for two years - is expected to disrupt supplies in the city. A Garda source said: 'Over the past two years we have noticed that overseas gangs, particularly those from the Liverpool area, have been trying to muscle in on the market here.'
In recent years both Liverpool and Glasgow have lost major gangland figures: Curtis Warren, the multi-millionaire heroin baron from Liverpool is currently serving a lengthy sentence in a Dutch prison while Paul Ferris, the man who took control of Glasgow's underworld following the demise of the Thompson clan, is in prison on firearms charges.
A number of other high profile arrests and seizures in the past two years left Scottish gangs lacking reliable suppliers and allowed the Liverpool-based firms to move in. The supply and distribution networks that were set up proved so sophisticated that they soon expanded into supplying drugs further afield.
The new alliance first emerged during a year-long surveillance operation by the National Crime Squad into the activities of Merseyside man Anthony Parkinson who had allegedly been supplying heroin and ecstasy to Glasgow-based Ian McAteer.
During the police operation, McAteer fell out with Liverpudlian Warren Selkirk, whom he had met in prison some years earlier and who had begun working as a drugs courier.
Fearing he was becoming too much of a liability, McAteer lured Selkirk to Crosby Marina in north Merseyside. Selkirk never returned. His body was found a few days later. He had been shot in the head four times and once in the chest. In his right hand he was clutching a plastic shopping bag full of dog excrement - a sign of McAteer's contempt for his victim.
Once arrested, McAteer threatened to shoot a number of police officers as well as anyone who stood as a witness against him. At least two members of the gang have been given new identities under the Witness Protection Programme in return for testifying against their former colleague.
After his conviction for murder at Liverpool Crown Court last week, it emerged that McAteer had been charged with a previous gangland killing in which a man was stabbed 57 times. He walked free from a Scottish court after a 'not proven' verdict.
Operation Kingsway, the original NCS investigation into the Liverpool-Glasgow connection concluded earlier this year when Parkinson and 10 others were convicted of supplying and distributing heroin and ecstasy.
The recent arrests in Dublin show the network has remained intact. But with rival factions continuing to operate in both cities, police fear a new wave of gangland killings.
Last week the charred bodies of two small-time crooks were discovered in a field in Merseyside following a brutal gangland execution. George Price and Mark Thompson were found face down alongside one another close to the town of Formby. Thompson, 30, had been stabbed in the chest before being shot in the back of the head. Price had been shot in the head several times. Both bodies had been doused in petrol before being set alight.
The deaths are being investigated by a new murder squad, the result of a major re-organisation within Merseyside Police which aims to ensure teams of highly experienced detectives are on hand at the start of a murder investigation.
The killings were the second double murder to take place in Liverpool in the past three years. They are also the latest in a fresh spate of gang warfare. In February 19-year-old Hussein Obad was shot dead in front of his young son. Obad was the prime suspect in a murder which had taken place a year earlier and was also set to be questioned by police over an incident three weeks before he was killed in which a nightclub bouncer had been shot. Obad's murder was the fifth shooting in three weeks.
Liverpool's underworld last hit the headlines in 1996 when a gangland war sprang up after the shooting of David Ungi. Six shootings took place in seven days as rivals battled for control of nightclub door security contracts.
The shootings led to Merseyside becoming one of the first British police forces to sanction officers openly carrying firearms in order to combat gun crime.
Liverpool is rapidly becoming the major distribution centre for heroin in Britain. Last month a separate operation by the NCS recovered 60kg of the drug in a single swoop. 

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