Karl Plunkett, icBerkshire.co.uk, April 6 2006
High ranking detectives fear legions of foreign gangsters have a stranglehold over Reading’s violent criminal underworld.
And privately, frustrated police hold the Immigration Service responsible for the takeover — claiming the agency has repeatedly refused to deport scores of dangerous villains.
The truth about those who control the local drug scene came to light during Operation Falcon, set up to combat the “men of violence” after the shocking abduction and murder of schoolgirl Mary Ann Leneghan nearly 12 months ago.
The “grossly understaffed” Falcon has made more than 1,000 arrests, at least 80 of whom were illegal immigrants heavily involved in drug dealing and controlling prostitution. Officers have also taken 310kg of class A drugs off the streets, and seized £250,000 in cash and assets from convicted criminals.
In an Operation Falcon briefing document seen by The Chronicle, a senior police officer revealed: “I estimate that the majority of drug related crime in Reading is committed by persons who have entered the country illegally.
“As police we try to crack down, but we get no support from the Immigration Service.
“A massive immigration crackdown is required in Reading to remove these people and eradicate them from the criminal fraternity.”
Describing the Immigration Service as being in “meltdown”, Reading East MP Rob Wilson, whose constituency covers some of the town’s most notorious haunts for drugs and prostitution, said: “The service is understaffed, overstretched and it’s focusing on the wrong areas.
“There are violent criminals on our streets that should not be in the country, let alone in our community.”
The report identifies a “whole raft” of illegal immigrants currently in British jails, who police say are being ignored by the Immigration Service — leaving them free to return to their lives of crime, many to Reading’s seedy drugs underworld.
The report concludes: “If we were given proper funding and resources to tackle this problem a real difference could be made, and I have no doubt that lives would be saved.
“The Immigration Service needs to work with us not against us to remove people who are overstayers, who have entered the country illegally, or commit crime.”
Mr Wilson said: “The police are struggling to deal with a system where they arrest somebody, put them in prison, and the Immigration Service cannot be bothered to track these people and deport them at the end of their prison sentences.”
Police have identified one telling loophole because illegal immigrants cannot be deported if they do not have a passport. So many of them — particularly Kenyans, Nigerians and Jamaicans — routinely dump their passports or any form of identification.
Last night Immigration Service spokesman Stephen Carter said: “Removing failed asylum seekers is still a top priority, but we are committed to taking action against illegal immigrants in general.”
Explaining the difficulties of deporting people who, for a variety of reasons, have no travel documents, or might be tortured if they return home, Mr Carter added:
“Where we can, we remove people, but that’s not to say we don’t come across some barriers.”
Criminals back on the street
* Christopher Stephenson (American Johnny), arrested for traffic offences in 2005. Fingerprints were sent to Interpol and he was identified by the FBI as a felon convicted of firearms and weapons offences in the US.
Had previously been deported to Jamaica by the US and entered Britain on a false passport, without declaring his convictions.
Stopped by officers in Oxford Road in 2003 and convicted of a weapons offence.
In 2005 immigration officers, armed with his criminal record, detained him temporarily but released him pending a human rights appeal but vanished and cannot be traced by immigration officials. Police believe he is back in Reading dealing drugs.
* Last month an officer stopped Kenyan Barry Gichimu, who is linked to the Reading drug trade, driving a car with no MOT, road tax, insurance or driving licence.
Operation Falcon officers were told by the Immigration Service not to arrest him, even though he is a failed asylum seeker, because he had no valid Kenyan passport.
A note on the police file reads “I would suggest that it is not in his interest to ever obtain one.”
* At the start of Falcon last year Dominic Fraser from Guyana was arrested at a crack house next to the derelict Wallingford Arms pub — from where murdered schoolgirl Mary Ann Leneghan was abducted.
The Immigration Service had no record of him being in Britain — meaning he got in under another name.
Police cautioned him for an immigration offence and he was deported — but last month Operation Falcon officers stopped him near another crack house in Oxford Road.
Immigration Service records show he was re-admitted to Britain on a student visa, and then married a UK national.
No checks had been made on his college course or marriage.