Big city gangs armed with guns and running heroin and crack cocaine into North Wales are being targeted in a ground-breaking campaign led by the region’s policing boss

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones has made the fight against Serious and Organised Crime one of his key policing priorities and his Force are leading the way in tackling the gangs.

Heroin and crack cocaine are the stock in trade of the 27 gangs active in the area and they are ready to back up their threats with violence with one in five serious assaults in North Wales down to their brutal enforcers.

The extent of the problem has been uncovered by the Force’s intelligence unit, headed by Detective Superintendent Sian Beck, which has profiled Serious and Organised Crime across the six counties of North Wales.

Their reports have identified eight gangs as the main culprits with almost half of the criminals from Merseyside – Manchester and West Midlands gangs are also involved.

The reports were called for by the North Wales Safer Communities Group and their chairman, Denbighshire Cabinet Lead Member for Safer Communities, Cllr.Mark Young, who has praised the Commissioner for leading the campaign.

He said: “I was shocked to discover the extent of the activities of these criminal gangs across North Wales but it’s real and we can only deal with it if we know what’s happening.

“The fact that the Commissioner has given clear leadership on this and is fully supportive of the fight against serious and organised crime is really important for North Wales.

“It’s vital that we follow that up by pushing home the message of community safety and partnership working.”

Arfon Jones, a former police inspector, said: “North Wales Police are leading the way in Wales in tracking and tackling organised crime and among forces of our type we are at the forefront.

“The public view of this problem is restricted because most people don’t experience it or come into contact with the gangs but the most vulnerable people in our society, including children and vulnerable people with mental health problems, are targeted by them.

“Much of it is under the radar because they are unlikely to report the fact that they’ve been beaten and threatened but the work that has been done has pointed to the presence of criminal gangs and it is important that we tackle them.”

In the last 12 months there hasn’t been any recorded use of guns in North Wales but the gangs involved are known to have access to firearms and to be prepared to use them, according to the report drawn up by North Wales Police’s Intelligence Department.

They use County Lines to distribute the drugs with gang members travelling across North Wales to recruit and supply young people and the vulnerable.

There are at least 11 distinct County Lines active in Conwy and Denbighshire, five in Flintshire, one in Wrexham, and five in Gwynedd and Anglesey where Bangor is a hub second only in size to Rhyl in North Wales.

Half the gangs originate on Merseyside and their vulnerable recruits and customers are subject to punishment beatings and even knife attacks if they fall behind in their payments to their drugs overlords.

Emma Thomas, the Force’s Head of Crime and Intelligence Analysis, worked on the profiles with Senior Analyst Owen Preece.

She said: “We needed to understand what our issues were in North Wales and to look at serious violence, the drugs market and vulnerable people.

“The fact that it is a priority for the Commissioner means we can put resources into it to help build resilient communities and try and change the culture so we recognise that these vulnerable people are being taken advantage of.

“Where North Wales leads is in partnership working and recognising that it is not just a policing issue but also involves so many organisations dealing with health and social services so that in Wales we are recognised as the go-to people in the fight against serious and organised crime.

“It is a very lucrative market for the gangs and they are very flexible and can change their methodology very quickly to adapt to how we operate and we have to keep up to deal with them.”

Detective Superintendent Beck added: “Gangs operating the County Lines drug supply model are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs, they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.

“The groups that consistently pose the highest risk are those who are targeting the most vulnerable people in our society, this can be children who are coerced into criminal or sexual exploitation or drug users and people with mental health issues who are sought out to use their homes as a base for drug supply.

“Victims typically have existing vulnerabilities which make them particularly susceptible to being targeted. They are likely to come from a chaotic home environment, be exposed to substance abuse and domestic violence from an early age, will regularly go missing or be truant from school and reside in neighbourhoods with high crime rates.

“Areas where organised crime is prevalent often have common characteristics of high levels of deprivation, child poverty, crime rates, unemployment, benefit dependency and low levels of household income.

“The fact that these gangs prey on children and vulnerable people is utterly despicable.”