British gangs and international rivals join forces to increase cocaine sales

Analysis by National Crime Agency finds more than 1,700 UK criminal groups involved in drug supply

British organised crime groups are collaborating closely with former international rivals like the Italian mafia to import increasingly bigger cocaine shipments into Europe, a senior investigator has revealed.

Lawrence Gibbons, drug threat lead at the National Crime Agency, said there was evidence that British gangs were forging an increasingly collegiate relationship with other powerful European crime groups, a notable development in the traditionally hyper-competitive world of cocaine trafficking.

Gibbons, who has 40 years’ experience in the field, said the NCA had begun finding large cocaine consignments in the same shipping container that appeared to be divvied up between criminal groups from different countries, which had joined forces to share the same sources and logistics.

This means that UK gangs are working in tandem with groups like Italy’s powerful ’Ndrangheta mafia clan, which controls much of Europe’s cocaine trade.

Such a relationship allows British-based groups to tap into the huge buying power and contacts of one of the world’s richest criminal groups. In 2013, Europol estimated the ’Ndrangheta’s turnover was £44bn — greater than McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank combined.

The development may also explain why shipments of cocaine to the UK appear to be growing in size. It comes days after the NCA helped intercept a huge two-tonne cocaine shipment from a yacht off south Devon, which led to its six crew being charged.

Gibbons told the Observer: “Instead of Mr Bigs operating totally independently like they did 10 years ago, there are a lot more OCGs working together. There is a collaboration between them, a collaboration at source with people sharing routes, transportation and containers.”

NCA analysis indicates 1,716 British organised criminal groups are involved in drugs supply, a number of which buy cocaine direct from the South American cartels using intermediaries or sources forged by the ’Ndrangheta, along with corrupt officials at ports like Rotterdam and Antwerp, where the drug often arrives into Europe.

Evidence that the major crime groups are working together suggests Europe’s huge cocaine market has grown large enough to sustain its major players alongside each another. South American cartels in countries such as Colombia prefer to export cocaine to Europe because it avoids the heavily policed US border and dealing with the violent Mexican cartels.

Gibbons said that cocaine is now widely used throughout UK society, challenging outdated claims that it remains the preserve of the middle classes.

In August the home secretary, Priti Patel, urged police to “make an example” of middle-class cocaine users in a new crackdown, promising to “name and shame” wealthy users.

“It’s a drug used by everyone from the highest levels of society to the lowest levels of society. It is no longer the drug for people with a lot of money behind them,” said Gibbons.

Contributor

Mark Townsend

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Cocaine, the yuppie drug? Not now, say experts – its lure is crossing all classes
Once a potent symbol of 1980s excess, the class A narcotic has become commonplace. So how do we curb its soaring use?

Mark Townsend

19, Sep, 2021 @7:15 AM

Article image
Albanian gangs have significant control over UK cocaine market, says crime agency
Deputy director general says violent criminals pose significant threat with danger innocent people could be hurt

Matthew Weaver

29, Jun, 2017 @9:59 AM

Article image
Kings of cocaine: how the Albanian mafia seized control of the UK drugs trade
‘They’re sophisticated, clever – and they always deliver’: from the ports of Europe to the streets of London, one criminal network is now at the top of the UK’s £5bn trade

Mark Townsend Home Affairs Editor

13, Jan, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
Cocaine seizures in England and Wales at highest level since 1973
Official statistics show almost 10,000kg of class A drug was confiscated in 2018-19

Mattha Busby

05, Dec, 2019 @2:54 PM

Article image
Armed police patrol Dublin as Veronica Guerin’s brother warns of gangs anarchy
Sibling of journalist gunned down 20 years ago fears Ireland is losing war against violence as election looms

Henry McDonald in Dublin and Mark Townsend in London

13, Feb, 2016 @7:47 PM

Article image
City gangs behind burgeoning crop of countryside crime
‘County lines’ drug dealing and theft are main culprits, says police commissioner

James Tapper

21, Apr, 2018 @9:43 PM

Article image
Fears grow over safety of 'legal high' mephedrone
It has a street name of 'bubble', but mephedrone, which can be bought over the internet, is causing serious health problems

Denis Campbell

17, Jan, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
'Addict' Britain is worldwide hub for sale of legal highs

'Club drugs' in vast quantities – and even heroin and cocaine – are being delivered by post

Mark Townsend, home affairs editor

31, Aug, 2013 @11:07 PM

Article image
City drug gangs are muscling into rural and coastal towns, says report
More than 180 gangs are dealing heroin and crack cocaine by telephone, often using children and vulnerable adults to deliver drugs and avoid police

Matthew Taylor

12, Aug, 2015 @5:00 PM

Article image
Leading world politicians urge 'paradigm shift' on drugs policy
Kofi Annan, George Shultz and Richard Branson among those urging public health approach

Jamie Doward

28, May, 2011 @11:08 PM