Police chiefs have warned big city drug gangs are carrying out turf wars in Cumbria, threatening levels of violence not seen in the county before.

Knives and bats are being wielded by "dangerous criminals" trying to corner a market in substances such as cocaine, heroin and skunk cannabis.

The link between organised Manchester and Merseyside gangs and the trafficking of drugs into Cumbria has long been known.

But senior detectives say mobs from London and Birmingham are now aiming to get in on the act - each keen to take a slice of this part of the criminal underworld.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Coughlan said people who took drugs socially at weekends had to realise they were fuelling this situation.

He urged the public to speak out if they saw or knew of anything suspicious.

DCI Coughlan also stressed the health risks involved - pointing out there were eight suspected drug-related deaths in the south of the county in just a few weeks.

He said the issue of gangs crossing county lines was a significant problem across the country for rural forces.

"These people bring with them levels of a threat of violence that we don't normally experience in Cumbria," he said.

"They do have turf wars for territories for the drugs market. We are seeing it in Carlisle and Barrow.

"But it's happening in every rural county across the country,

"We're doing an awful lot in terms of our drugs teams, uniformed teams and serious and organised crime team.

"We take them out and enforce the law."

He stressed the role people could play in destroying the market.

"The thing people need to realise is we as a community are creating the market for drugs," said DCI Coughlan.
DCI Nick Coughlan -

"Some people see it as a victimless crime. That having cocaine or another drug on a weekend is just recreation.

"But it brings threats, intimidation.

"It is a big problem. Drug trafficking is not victimless.

"People need to stop thinking of it in that way and seeing these people as who they are - dangerous criminals."

He spelled out some of the working methods.

"They are using young people to courier the drugs into the county," said DCI Coughlan.

"They are intimidating 16, 17-year-olds, who might live in somewhere like Manchester, to bring the drugs up.

"If people weren't buying the drugs locally we wouldn't have these risks.

"If the market is there they will service the market. These groups are operating as criminal businesses."

On the threats of violence, DCI Coughlan said: "We have not got to the stage where we are seeing firearms.

"It's other types of weapons - bats, knives."

He said groups were dealt with, dismantled - then another group moves in.

"It's a business angle," he said.

"It is at saturation point in urban areas so they are reaching out to other areas.

"With some groups from, say, Liverpool, they come up. They are quite well known to us.

"We speak to Merseyside Police. They say: We've never heard of them.

"They're not messing their own nest."

The gangs, say police, have a hierarchy, with couriers at the bottom, sometimes links within Cumbria, and layers moving upwards.

DCI Coughlan also stressed some of the health problems and risks.

In December, eight people in Barrow, Ulverston and Kendal lost their lives in suspected drug-related deaths.

DCI Coughlan said: "Most drugs are not produced in Cumbria.

"Young people at times do not recognise the risk they are taking on.

"With cocaine. It is sometimes seen as more of a weekend party drug.

"What we see from that is escalating violence at a weekend, domestic violence when people have taken that cocaine.

"With cannabis, some of it - particularly skunk cannabis - it is very, very strong. It has all sorts of health implications.

"It is causing people paranoia. It is very, very damaging.

"Cocaine is from south America. It has passed through various people's hands and is mixed with different substances.

"People don't know what they are mixed with. People just do not know what they are taking.

"It's not like going to a shop and buying a tin of baked beans."

He said it was a "really challenging battle" keeping on top - and urged people to come forward with information.

"No matter how small, it all helps us build up that picture," he added.

Cumbria's crime commissioner said people should not think the county is safe from drug gangs.

Peter McCall added: "Before I came into the job I didn't really have any concept of this.

"The temptation here in Cumbria is to think it doesn't happen here.

"That is because most people in Cumbria don't see it.

"That doesn't mean it's not there. "It's already here. We are already seeing evidence of it.

"The force has identified groups operating here from as far afield as London."

Mr McCall, who oversees county crimefighting, said the force was determined to stay on top of the situation.

"I do not want that sort of activity spilling onto the streets here in Cumbria," he said.

"There is a lot of work going on to combat that.

"What we haven't seen is the level of knife crime and violence which tends to happen in the larger cities.

"But nowhere in the country is immune to this."

Detectives have warned about a criminal tactic used by drugs gangs - known as "cuckooing", which is an increasing problem in Cumbria.

This is where drug criminals, often from larger cities, take over the property of a vulnerable person, usually with the offer of money or drugs.

They use it as a base to set up a criminal operation.

DCI Coughlan added: "It's usually a vulnerable drug user. Very often they are female and might have kids.

"They are indebted to the drug suppliers .

"It leads to people being exploited in the household and there is a risk to that household."

The tactic was used by a Liverpool-based gang who were jailed for a combined 35 years in recent weeks for crimes including the supply of class A drugs in the city.

Braden Moreton Among those sentenced were Braden Moreton, 19, of Liverpool, who was handed a 14-year prison sentence for being concerned in the supply of heroin and robbery.

Gary McCaffrey, 47, of Balmoral Court, Carlisle, was sentenced to seven years for being involved in drugs supply while Stuart Baker, 21, of Southport, will spend four years and 10 months behind bars for the same offence.

The gang used 37-year-old Craig Metcalfe's Lightfoot Drive flat, in Harraby, as their 'nest'.

Metcalfe was sentenced to 20 months in prison, suspended for two years, for being concerned in supply of heroin.

Carlisle Crown Court heard earlier this month how a former Barrow woman acted as an illegal middle-manager and arranged the supply of heroin from her home.

Samantha Louise Wall, 41, was locked up for 40 months.
Samantha Louise Wall

Wall had admitted possessing heroin, and conspiring to supply the class A drug between November 17 and December 4 last year.

Police forced their way into her home in Kendal town centre on December 4.

They found 5g of heroin which she had stockpiled for her own use over the Christmas period.

The court heard Wall had received a 28-month prison term in 2015 - also for conspiring to supply heroin while living elsewhere in south Cumbria.

This involved organised criminals from Liverpool moving into the Barrow area. Prosecutor Gerard Rogerson spoke of a "type of cuckooing" crime.

The court heard in November last year she was then approached again by Liverpool-based criminals.

She was said to be a "vulnerable" woman who was "no doubt under duress".

The charity Crimestoppers has launched a campaign across Cumbria to highlight the pain and suffering big city criminals are inflicting on children and vulnerable people.

It focused on the expansion of drug networks to rural areas, bringing with it violence, exploitation and abuse - and flagged up cuckooing.

The charity said many of those targeted have been forced to carry out crime by threats, grooming and extortion.

A social media campaign has been launched by the charity to raise awareness of the issue.

This has been supported by both the West Cumbria and South Lakes and Barrow Community Safety Partnerships - alliances of organisations.

Crimestoppers said it had 240 pieces of information given to it anonymously from the public in Cumbria over the last six months on drug trafficking and supply.

This has resulted in significant arrests and seizures by Cumbria Police, it added.

Gary Murray, Crimestoppers regional manager for the North West, said: "We need the public’s help to put a stop to this exploitation and the damage that these criminals are inflicting on our community and young lives.

"The criminals rely on people turning a blind eye and not speaking out.

"But they can really make a difference and send a very clear message to the criminals that they are not wanted here by contacting us anonymously and safely.

"Together we can put a stop to this.

"We won’t judge or ask any personal details. All we want to know is what you know, and you’ll remain 100 per cent anonymous. Always."

  • Anyone with information can contact Criimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or can send an untraceable online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org.
  • Call police on 101.