Police crack down on foreign crimelords

PEDDLING misery and despair, foreign crimelords are setting up bases at flats and houses in the county in growing numbers.

PEDDLING misery and despair, foreign crimelords are setting up bases at flats and houses in the county in growing numbers.

It may be scaremongering to claim that organised crime has reached the neighbourhood where you live.

However, irrefutably these gangs have sought to gain a foothold in residential areas, with Ipswich targeted in particular.

Illustrating the point is the case of Yan Yang, 50, a brothel madam in Ashmere Grove, Ipswich, who pleaded guilty to prostitution-related offences at Ipswich Crown Court last Friday after a police raided the property earlier this year. She will be sentenced on September 28.

The presence of residential drug and prostitution rackets are rarely obvious, as their success relies on secrecy.

Police are understandably keen to keep a sense of perspective, but the past 12 months have highlighted how domestic premises are being used for the multi-million pound drug and sex trades.

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In July this year a Home Office and Cabinet Office review found more than 4,000 organised foreign gangs nationally were running drugs, guns, fraud and human trafficking operations in Britain.

Six months earlier Suffolk Police issued warnings about the steep rise in the number of cannabis factories being discovered in Suffolk.

Specialist electricians are brought in to by-pass power sources, and provide the heat and light necessary for the plants to flourish.

Hydroponic equipment is installed to maximise the chances of a good crop which can be harvested three times a year.

The racketeers are often linked to Far East gangs, predominantly from countries such as Vietnam.

While the gang leaders distance themselves from the cultivation through layers of intermediaries, those used as the 'gardeners' are often illegal immigrants smuggled into the country by people traffickers.

Vulnerable, frightened and in debt, they find themselves with no choice but to look after the cannabis.

With virtually no money of their own, they are kept as paupers while others get rich from the profits.

It is a bleak world, but nowhere near as wretched or invasive as that inhabited by the women brought to England to work as sex slaves.

Throughout the past year brothels in residential areas have been raided by Suffolk police.

Neighbours have little idea of the true extent of what is going on next door or the links to organised crime.

The only real clues are the clients who regularly arrive in their cars or taxis.

Detective Superintendent Chris Mayhew, of Suffolk's serious and organised crime unit said: “Whether it is cannabis, drug dealing in general, or brothels, we would like people to contact us when they see things that are not the norm. This includes an increase in different people going to the premises, or where people are going outside normal hours - things that may not be noticed by anyone other than people who live in the street.

“Cannabis factory windows and blinds are constantly closed and there are no normal comings and goings like family homes.”

Det Supt Mayhew also urged landlords to thoroughly check out their tenants and the premises once they have been rented out.

Anyone who suspects they live near a brothel or a cannabis factory should telephone police on 01473 613500 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

IT may be known as the oldest profession in the world, but for the women involved their services are anything but voluntary.

Put to work as prostitutes in brothels set up by foreign crime gangs, they have no life to speak of.

From July 2008 to July 2009 Suffolk police have discovered 33 brothels in the county, the vast majority have links to people traffickers.

According to figures released by the constabulary, 15 Chinese-run brothels alone have been located.

Christened 'Chickenhouses' there were 11 in Ipswich, two in Newmarket, one in Witnesham and another in Lowestoft.

Eight of these were raided resulting in 18 arrests involving illegal immigration, human trafficking, money laundering and keeping a brothel.

The premises are usually privately rented. Each business is often overseen by a housekeeper.

The girls used are mainly illegal immigrants, shipped over to England. They owe the gangs money, or have been promised cleaning or nanny jobs.

When they arrive they are taken to a railway station, given a train ticket and a telephone number to call on arrival at their destination.

Usually they arrive on a Sunday or Monday, the day the prostitutes are often swapped around to keep the punters supplied with new women.

Officers say that Monday is often the busiest day of a brothel's week for that very reason.

The women are picked up at the railway station and taken to the premises where they will be kept.

They may leave a week later, when they are driven to the railway station, bought a ticket to somewhere else and supplied with another telephone number to call when they get there.

It is a truly pitiful existence and yet many of their 'clients' do not realise or care about the life these women are forced to lead.

Detective Superintendent Chris Mayhew said the prostitutes are held as virtual captives.

“They are almost prisoners within the premises. Their lifestyle is restricted and dictated by people who own and manage those brothels and effectively run their lives for them. The women live a very limited lifestyle.”

The vast majority of the money goes to the madams and is filtered up the hierarchy of the criminal gangs.

Three Eastern European brothels have also been discovered in Ipswich since July 2008 resulting in one raid and five arrests.

A further five commercial massage parlours have been found, culminating in one raid and two arrests involving managing a brothel and serious sexual assaults.

Since the murder of five Ipswich street prostitutes in 2006 those still working to fund drug habits have retreated into these sort of businesses.

Police said 10 'discreet' premises - four in Ipswich, two in Lowestoft, and others in Brandon, Mildenhall, and Willis ham were also located.

DRUG production in Suffolk's home-made cannabis factories has increased 80 per cent in three years, according to police figures.

During raids on domestic premises in 2007/08, 1,321 cannabis plants were seized from a total of 21 crimes. This was in comparison to 2004/05 when 734 plants were found in relation to 13 offences where 10 or more plants were confiscated.

Rooms, lofts, cellars and even toilets are used to maximise the Class B crop.

The Home Office has said nationally 3,033 premises were defined as cannabis factories in 2007/08 with 22 of them found in Suffolk.

Throughout this year there have been many court cases illustrating the rise in cannabis factories located in domestic premises.

Only two weeks ago illegal immigrant Doung Nguyen was jailed for two years after police found a cannabis factory worth around �750,000 in Trimley St Mary.

The 31-year-old Vietnamese national was discovered in a property in Punchard Way after police raided a house on June 17.

Among the others to be jailed was Thau Nguyen, who was already on the run when police arrested him at a house in Kingfisher Way in the Chantry area of Ipswich on December 29 last year.

He was sentenced to four years after admitting cultivating the Class B drug. Nguyen was on Kent Police's most wanted list when he was caught after skipping bail while awaiting sentencing in 2004 for the same charge. He was also linked to other domestic cannabis factories.

In February another illegal immigrant, Phong Van Tran, was jailed for 18 months for growing a crop of cannabis in Jovian Way, Ipswich, on December 23 last year.

On occasions it is those in debt to the dealers who are given the job of ensuring a good crop of cannabis is grown.

This year at Ipswich Crown Court Carl Allcock, 39, and Stephen Kingwell, 51, both of Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, were imprisoned for a total of eight years after being charged with tending the drug factory where they lived.

In fear or in debt, it makes no difference to the drug lords who recruit the gardeners.

Detective Superintendent Chris Mayhew said: “They are illegals or have significant drug debts and their gardening is a way of paying back that debt.

“They live a poor lifestyle from a health point of view alone. Being in a confined area for long periods is very detrimental to their health.”