'I thought I was dead' - my life in a gang robbing London drug dealers in the city
PUBLISHED: 17:30 10 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:57 11 June 2018
Young drug runners sent up to Norwich by London gangs are being targeted by addicts for their cash, crack and heroin. One former addict who was part of a gang robbing them tells his story.
“Luck, craziness, sheer desperation.”
That is how one former member of a masked group looks back on his two years of robbing dealers in the city.
They called themselves the ‘Class A team’ and targeted teenagers who were sent up from London to live and deal in the houses of addicts, known as ‘cuckooing’.
The teenagers - referred to as Bics as they are disposable to the gangs - took risks when coming to Norfolk of being caught by police.
But they also ran into dangers in the city - losing money and drugs in raids by a Norwich group on the flats they were ‘cuckooing’.
Wearing balaclavas and armed with a stun gun, knuckle duster, samurai sword, pool cue and air gun, the “Class A team”, regularly raided the homes of those being ‘cuckooed’.
Those robberies bred violence from the London gangs. Two of them were badly beaten up in Fishergate. One of them took an overdose and died after being severely injured in an attack by a gang he stole from last year.
“I had robbed for years on and off but in 2015 I got together with friends to professionally raid the houses of addicts where London dealers were staying,” the man, who does not want to be identified, said.
“I would never crawl through someone’s window or shoplift. It was dealers we were targeting.
“Often the guy being ‘cuckooed’ would be in on it. We would run in and grab the lad.
“I would shout ‘armed police, get down’. We copied it from police raids and took control of the whole situation. It was like a professional hit.
“They didn’t have a clue what had gone on. It is easy to scare 15 year olds.
“Kids come up here and play gangster but they are dealing with desperate people. If a woman is prepared to turn to prostitution for drugs, what is a man prepared to do?”
He said he took precautions by always wearing a mask and going in with a group.
“Nine times out of 10 I knew it was going to be OK. We knew where we were going and what we were going to do,” he said.
“We did it on and off for a couple of years. I felt bad for some of the younger ones, but we never had to badly hurt them. No one needed to get hurt.
“After a while the parcels the gangs were sending up from London got smaller and they would start coming up in twos or threes.
“The money we got from the raids went quickly on crack. I didn’t touch heroin. One night I had too much heroin so I just dashed around the city giving it out to homeless people.”
But despite the successes of his raids it also came with terrible dangers.
“Some of the dealers got wise to it,” he said. “One gang was offering addicts free shots for information on us.
“Another time a group chased us out of a flat.”
He said he was careful, but some of the other members were not as cautious and eventually he got caught.
One night he and a friend went to a church in Fishergate where they planned to rob a dealer, who was part of a gang they had already robbed.
But they picked the wrong target. Five men appeared with baseball bats and beat them badly.
“I thought ‘I’m dead’,” he said. “We limped home. By that point we had started thinking we were untouchable.”
He shows pictures of his bruised body, turned black and blue by the bats.
One of his group was caught last year by a gang he had robbed from.
“He would go out on his own to do robberies,” the man said.
“He went to one house and a group of London lads came flying in. He never properly recovered.”
Weeks later he took an overdose and died, aged 27.
“After his death I calmed things down and went back to work,” the man said. “It got me into a different routine.
“My support worker got in touch about going into rehab. It was my golden ticket and I came off my medication and crack.”
He talks candidly as he tells his stories about his time robbing dealers - the time they held a needle to a dealer’s head, the time they tied another one up with rope.
He wants people to know about the other side of London gangs coming to Norwich - that they are also a target for violence which in turn is breeding more violence.
One of the most shocking details exposed by the police’s crackdown on drug dealing is just how young those caught up in it are.
Gangs send teenagers from London to “cuckoo” the houses of addicts, meaning they do not have to take risks themselves.
The youngsters are referred to as Bics, as they are so disposable.
And it means when police do raid homes they are often only catching those at the bottom of the food chain.
Last week three more teenagers admitted 18 drug dealing offences in Norwich. Two were 17 and one was 16.
Prosecutor Chris Youell described them as “foot soldiers” and added the gangs would simply get a new number and start again.
“It is a bit like cutting the head off a hydra,” he said.
They were among more than 30 alleged drug dealers who appeared before Norwich Crown Court last week as part of a seven-month undercover police operation called Granary.
•Drug violence in Norfolk
•November 2015: Andrew McGowan stabbed to death in Great Yarmouth by drug dealers. He had gone to a flat where they were staying armed with a claw hammer to either rob them or confront them, a court later heard.
•September 2016: Two addicts waiting to buy crack cocaine in a Dereham car park are stabbed by a dealer. Matthew Xavier is jailed for 12 years for attack.
•November 2016: Steve Stannard, 37, stabbed to death by drug dealer in Bowers Avenue, Norwich. Killer Hassiem Baqir is jailed for 20 years.
•November 2016: Police declare “critical incident” over violence linked to the drug trade.
Operation Gravity is launched in response.
•January 2017: Police say addicts were being stabbed over a £10 drug debt.
•January 2018: Man in his 20s stabbed in back on Gertrude Road.
He was arrested for supplying class A drugs, while suspect also taken to hospital.
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