Albanian crime gangs are becoming increasingly involved in the drugs trade in many areas of England, GB News has been told.
One senior policing leader said he was “very concerned” about the problem in his county.
Tim Passmore, Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, has called for “better border controls” to help stop those who might be coming to the UK to get involved in the criminal underworld.
GB News was given exclusive access to follow officers from Operation Sentinel, Suffolk Constabulary’s dedicated unit trying to disrupt the criminal gangs using the county’s roads for their trade in drugs.
It is highly impressive unit, whose officers are constantly building an intelligence picture of those involved in drugs and organised crime.
Cannabis plants growing. Gareth Fuller
The unit, based in three areas of Suffolk, has taken drugs to the value of almost one million pounds off the streets in the past year. Its officers have arrested more than 500 suspects in that same time period and seized criminal proceeds of around £135,000.
At Operation Sentinel’s West base in Bury St Edmunds, one of the key tools available to the unit is the national Automatic Number Plate Recognition system, ANPR, which helps track the movements of vehicles suspected to be involved in organised criminality.
The officers told me that Albanian organised criminal gangs are becoming increasingly involved in the drugs trade in Suffolk. It mirrors what many other forces in England are seeing, according to sources GB News has spoken to.
On the wall of the main office in Bury St Edmunds are posters of the nine most recent people the unit has managed to secure convictions for. Seven of the nine are Albanian nationals. All are now behind bars thanks to the efforts of the Sentinel team.
As GB News joined one particular patrol in Newmarket, a vehicle the unit had been keeping tabs on in the days before, triggered an ANPR camera as it entered an area in the West of the county.
The Sentinel teams raced to catch-up with the vehicle before stopping it and questioning the driver.
The man, an Albanian national, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the supply of drugs. He was also a disqualified driver.
A group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness, Kent, onboard an RNLI Lifeboat. Many of those crossing the Channel have found to have come from Albania. Gareth Fuller
A search of his vehicle found numerous items the officers believed were to be used in starting or expanding a cannabis farm, including seed trays, a water tank, a fan and hydroponic liquids and tablets.
A search warrant for a flat police believe is linked to the suspect uncovered a cannabis factory upstairs, with more than 150 cannabis plants.
Once fully cultivated, the haul could have netted around £150,000 in street level deals.
Tim Passmore said he was proud of the unit he helped secure extra funding for, but expressed his alarm at the number of Albanian nationals now involved in drugs in his country.
“I'm very concerned about it” He said.
“I want to make it quite clear, I'm not saying that all Albanian people are bad, because clearly they're not.
“But the reality is, there is a disproportionate level of Albanian criminal gangs operating in East Anglia and in Suffolk. And I think you've heard from the officers, you've seen the evidence.”
The Commissioner said much more must be done to control those entering and leaving the UK.
“I don't know why some of these people are allowed in here. Many of us have been saying that for years. Control the borders so we know who's coming in and we know who's going out. We can't have a free for all.”
It is not just Albanians involved in organised crime in Suffolk and elsewhere. Many British and other nationalities are involved in the drugs trade and the violence that often flows from it.
Detective Superintendent David Giles, head of Operation Sentinel said: “I’m not sure people do realise, but a lot of crimes can be tracked ultimately to drugs.
“People commit burglaries and robberies often to fund a drug habit, shoplifting to fund a drug habit, breaking into cars to fund a drug habit.
“With that comes violence, if people can't get the drugs they're addicted to. So, it is a big problem. It's not all related to that, but there is a big problem that's linked to drugs.”
Back out on patrol in Newmarket, the Sentinel team stopped another suspicious vehicle, after it triggered their number plate recognition cameras.
The men inside are from the Balkans, this time Bulgaria.
The driver of the vehicle had been arrested previously for drugs offences.
On this occasion, officers found he was a disqualified driver and had no vehicle insurance.
The car was seized and won’t be taking to the roads again anytime soon.
But for the teams of Operation Sentinel, there are many more vehicles, many organised criminal gangs continuing to use the roads of Suffolk to ship their drugs and fuel misery and violence in the community.