Rogue Haulage Firms Targeted In Regional Crackdown On Organised Crime

Haulage firms and truck drivers involved in organised crime across the North West are being targeted by law enforcement agencies during a 12-month crackdown supported by Crimestoppers.

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Drugs, guns, illegal tobacco, laundered fuel, and dangerous fake alcohol are among the contraband that are smuggled into the United Kingdom from overseas then brought to the North West hidden in lorries.

Titan, (the North West Regional Crime Unit), is leading an operation codenamed 'Hedgehunter' aimed at:

· Disrupting criminal activity by rogue elements within the haulage industry

· Gathering information about who is involved

· Supporting law-abiding members of the trucking industry whose profits and livelihoods are being threatened by criminals

Operation Hedgehunter is being supported by independent charity Crimestoppers, Border Force (BF), the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), HM Revenue & Customers (HMRC) as well as all six regional police forces and other agencies.

Detective Chief Inspector Janet Hudson, the Senior Investigating Officer for Operation Hedgehunter said:

"This is the first time that Titan has led an operation targeting haulage companies as the movers and shakers in serious and organised crime in this region.

"Almost all organised crime affecting the North West involves commodities like drugs, weapons or contraband crossing our borders illegally and end up fuelling crime on the streets of our communities and damaging people's lives.

"By targeting rogue elements within the haulage industry we are disrupting this supply chain, driving the criminal element out of trucking and firing a warning shot across their bows that we are going to be looking very closely at their business practices.

"The vast majority of firms are run by decent, law-abiding people who are simply trying to run a legitimate business and make a living. But they are not competing on a level playing field because some of their rivals are using the proceeds from organised crime to expand their business unfairly.

"My message to them is help us put a stop to this by sharing what you know about suspicious or illegal activity in your industry."

Operation Hedgehunter is a multi-agency operation aimed at encouraging people working in the haulage industry and the wider public to report on hauliers who are operating outside of the law and industry regulations. The haulage industry turns over £64 billion each year, employing 220,000 people and operating 425,000 vehicles.

From next Wednesday (November 21) police and other agencies will be carrying out highly visible roadside examinations of heavy goods vehicles being driven on the motorway network to check if they are carrying any illegal loads or have committed any traffic offences.

A high-profile awareness-raising campaign aimed at truck drivers and other motorway users will also encourage them to report any information about illegal or suspicious activity anonymously to Crimestoppers.

Leaflets with an eye-catching image of a set of truck doors with the slogan: 'Illegal load on board?' will be placed by Border Force officers in the passports of truck drivers going through security checks at key ports. Business cards will also be handed to them in cafes and garages in the region's main motorway truck stops.

Law enforcement agencies and border officials have successfully targeted hauliers from all over the country and Europe in the past with millions of pounds of drugs seized and offenders being given double-digit prison sentences.

In September this year lorry driver Stephen Newland from Burscough, Lancashire was jailed for eight and a half years after Border Force officials found 45 kilos of cocaine worth £8 million hidden in a false bulkhead in the driver's cab. Newland claimed her had used the lorry to transport a friend's belongings from the north to the south of France and denied there was anything on board. However after the discovery at Dover he admitted being knowingly concerned in the importation of a controlled drug.

In the same month, businessman Gary Pattinson from Hull was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for plotting to import high quality cocaine into the country hidden in boxes of flowers. An investigation by the Serious Organised Crime Agency found that Pattinson had driven to Rotterdam in Holland to pick up the cocaine but was stopped by Border Force officials when he returned to Hull two days later. A search of his HGV revealed 89 boxes of chrysanthemums which, when X-rayed, contained 84 kilos of 97 per cent pure cocaine with an estimated street value of £23.5 million.

Border Force officers have also recently stopped five people from Eritrea hiding in a lorry bound for Crewe, which had been stopped at Calais. A sniffer dog detected the group hiding in the lorry, which had come from Czechoslovakia.