EXCLUSIVE: Major UK drugs cartel suspected of at least 10 gangland executions says NCA chief
MURDERS: A major crime network may have executed 10 or more people
AT LEAST ten gangland murders are being connected to a "top end" British organised crime group thought to be at the forefront of flooding the UK with the cocaine that is fuelling violence on our streets.
The National Crime Agency (NCA), often dubbed Britain's FBI, is investigating the gangsters based in the UK and Spain amid suspicions they are behind several gangland assassinations.
The probe is part of a renewed focus by the agency on the top-tier criminals that bring cocaine and heroin into the UK directly from cartels in South America and the Middle East.
Vince O'Brien, head of drug operations at the NCA, said: "There is an ongoing operation into an organised crime group and multiple murders. I cannot say anything further publicly at this stage."
HAUL: The NCA waits for the MV Hamal which was found with £500 million of cocaine off the Scottish coast
He would not detail any of the victims investigators have linked.
The British gangsters are thought to have strongholds in the UK and Spain, where most cocaine imported from Colombia by sea comes to, before moving onto Britain.
Following a surge in violence linked to drug dealing across the country this year, the Government produced a serious violence strategy, which led to police forces focussing on the so called "county lines" phenomenon.
This is where drug dealers from cities send drug mules, sometimes children, out into suburbs and rural areas to sell crack cocaine and heroin to drug addicts, often leading to bloody turf wars with escalating violence.
However, Mr O'Brien said, although organised, these "county lines" gangs were at the lower end of the supply chain and in order to stem the overall drugs problem, those at the top and "middle market" need to be targeted.
Crack houses - makeshift factories where cocaine is turned into crack - also need to be hit, he said.
BUSTED: A tonne of cocaine worth £100 million found on another UK-bound boat by the NCA
Mr O'Brien said: "Organised crime is chaotic and complex, but in the simplest terms there are those at the top bringing tonnes or hundreds of kilos into the country.
"Then there are the middle market suppliers as well who distribute kilos around the country on a regional basis before it gets to the urban street gangs or county lines gangs who deal directly with the customer.
Although police disrupting street level county lines gangs with high-profile raids is part of the war on drugs, the NCA wants to put more pressure on the Mr Bigs cashing in by dealing directly with cartels in Colombia and Afghanistan, where heroin is produced, and importing millions of pounds worth of narcotics time after time.
ARRESTED: Met Police officers carry out 'county lines' drug raids in London last year
Even if they cannot get enough evidence to charge the kingpins directly with drug offences, they are looking at using unexplained wealth orders and other financial measures to investigate and strip them of their assets.
He said: "The NCA's job is to look at drug supply to the UK and focus on the gangs bringing in millions of pounds worth. In particular, now there is the new Economic Crime Centre, through the Proceeds of Crime Act and unexplained wealth orders we will be looking to take their money because that is what hurts them."