ACCORDING TO Jamaican police, there are now 500 suspected Jamaican criminals operating in Britain, running a drug trade that brings about 200 pounds of cocaine from Jamaica into Britain each week with a street value of more than £4.5m.
The flow has accelerated sharply in the past 18 months, largely as a result of tougher immigration controls by the United States. Yardie gangsters find it not only easier to enter Britain but can also make bigger profits than in the US, where the street price of cocaine has slumped.
"More and more of the criminals of the Jamaican gangs are going to the UK," said Tony Hewitt, a senior superintendent with Jamaica's Special Branch. "It seems that every time you search for a man, you hear that he is in England."
The consequences can increasingly be seen on Britain's streets. Incidents involving Yardie-style gangs in London more than doubled in January, compared with the same month last year. In England and Wales, a significant proportion of the 9 per cent rise in gun crime last year to a record 4,019 incidents is attributed to Yardie gun culture.
So engrained are the Yardies in London that part of Brixton in the south of the capital is known as Little Tivoli, named after Tivoli Gardens.
However, it is not just London where the Yardies have established strongholds. Seven police forces covering cities from Leeds and Leicester to Southampton and Plymouth have now launched operations similar to the Metropolitan police's Operation Trident, set up five years ago to tackle black-on-black gun crime.
Detective Inspector Bruce Ballagher, who runs Operation Atrium in Bristol, said: "We believe the major part of the crack supply revolves around Jamaican organised crime groups. They drive their drugs trade dealing by fear, intimidation and violence."
Operation Stirrup, run against Yardies in Leeds last year, led to 160 arrests and 57 people being deported to Jamaica. A new initiative, Operation Safeguard, led to 30 more arrests in a six-day clampdown earlier this month; two have already been deported.
Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Brown, who is heading the Leeds operation, said it was meant to send a strong message to the Yardies.
Jamaican police estimate there are 30 Yardie gangs operating in Britain. Some, like the Black Roses, which they claim to have smashed in Jamaica, operate in Bristol and Brixton. One of the most powerful is known as the President's Click, which was formed out of the notorious Shower Posse. It is headed by Christopher Lloyd Coke, also known as Dudas.
The cocaine is grown by the drug cartels of Colombia and shipped to Jamaica in fast boats that can do the journey across the Caribbean in 16 hours. The Jamaican coastguard, with one patrol boat capable of 12 knots, is powerless to stop the trade.
The cocaine is worth £1,000 per pound in Jamaica. A mule, often a prostitute working her passage, is paid a similar sum for swallowing a pound wrapped in condoms or in pellet form and flying to London. Customs officials at Heathrow and Gatwick suspect that at least one in 10 passengers from Jamaica are drug "mules."
The Yardies use false passports. A British "red book" costs £150 in Jamaica to enter Britain. Some pay £10,000 for marriages of convenience to British girls. Others enrol at bogus colleges so that their six-month visas are extended to two years. Police believe there may be 400 such colleges operating in Britain.
Six men from Jamaica's most wanted list are believed to be living in Britain. They are Donnovan Bennett, 38, nicknamed "Bulbie," the "don" of a drug trafficking gang called Clans Massive based in Spanish Town, west of Kingston, who is blamed for at least 20 murders; Kemar "Natty Patch" Jarrett, 20, alleged to have gunned down a magistrate in Kingston; Mark Bromley, alias "Shotty Mark," a member of the President's Click thought to be in Brixton; scar-faced Glenford Spencer, seen recently in Bristol; Daniel Lowe, nicknamed "Gun Power," wanted for shooting dead a 17-year-old boy who argued with him; and Andrew Meade, known as "Dread", who is alleged to have shot dead his own brother and a girlfriend.
Jamaican police believe they have had some success in tackling the "mule" trade. Carl Williams, the senior superintendent in charge of drugs, said: We did fairly well last year helping our counterparts make arrests overseas. But there is nothing we can do about the demand.
"We would much rather the British population started craving bananas and yams, then we Jamaicans would be rich. But, alas, it is cocaine they want."
(Reprinted with minor editing from the Sunday Times of London).