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Crime squad on trail of the untouchables; Drug barons are brought to justice at last.

THE conviction of two major Merseyside gangsters illustrates that no-one is now untouchable, the head of the National Crime Squad last night said.

Eddie Gray and Mark Lilley received a total of 47 years in jail following lengthy investigations to smash their criminal empires.

And their downfalls have now been specifically highlighted by the head of the NCS as examples of the good work the organisation has carried out.

Gray received 24 years after masterminding a drugs business which saw him live in a large detached home in West Derby, Liverpool, drive a Ferrari with a personalised numberplate and enjoy exotic holidays.

In his report, Crime Squad Director General William Hughes said Gray, 38, who was known to his associates as "the Bear" was "a main player in serious and organised crime whose illegal dealings in Class A drugs, namely heroin, are believed to have financed several expensive cars and a luxury home with an indoor swimming pool . . . accumulated from running a modest taxi business."

Mark Lilley, 27, remains on the run after absconding during his trial, which eventually saw him convicted of narcotics and firearms offences.

The 6ft tall, 20-stone gangster from Earlestown, near St Helens, who was described by the trial judge as "the worst type of drug dealer", has a fearsome reputation for violence and was only arrested after a covert listening device was installed at his home.

Mr Hughes said: "These major criminals from the North West, previously deemed 'untouchables', were finally brought to justice for their major drug dealing activities and sentenced to a total of almost 50 years in prison.

"Officers then began financial proceedings to strip them of their trappings of wealth - so far just under pounds 500,000 realised profit has been confiscated - and completely disrupted the criminal network which they had established."

During the past year, the NCS nationally seized drugs with an estimated street value of more than pounds 260m - a figure twice that of the group's annual budget.

The narcotics included 768kgs of heroin, worth around pounds 57m, of which more than a tenth was recovered on Merseyside.

During the same period, 1,391kgs of cocaine was seized with a street value of pounds 105m, along with pounds 86m-worth of cannabis and pounds 13.3m-worth of Ecstasy and amphetamine.

Mr Hughes added: "Investigations into major drug trafficking continues to account for approximately 70pc of our core business. In relation to drugs, we undertook 191 operations which were specifically drug-focused, making 621 arrests, of which 450 were arrested for Class A drugs only.

"During the year, we also successfully disrupted or dismantled 253 criminal organisations, of which 206 were drug-related."

He continued: "The vast majority of these drugs were seized in huge containers transported on cargo ships bound for Europe and ultimately the United Kingdom.

"Many of these successful operations also removed from local communities negative role models whose grip on those communities, often through trafficking in drugs, is pernicious."

Once again, the fight against organised crime continues to dominate the NCS agenda.

Since its inception, the organisation has identified two tiers of criminal which it targets - the "core nominal" and the "current nominal". The former is described as "a major criminal of international, national or regional significance believed to be involved in the commission of crime at the highest level" while the latter, although still a serious criminal, has yet to establish himself at the higher levels of crime.

It is estimated that there are around 300 "core nominals" across England and Wales - and, outside of Greater London, Merseyside has the highest number of any other region.

Mr Hughes said: "The very nature of organised crime persists in transcending regional and judicial boundaries, making it imperative that our relationship with other law-enforcement agencies, both in the United Kingdom and across the world, is second to none.

"Over the last year, the development of intelligence and analytical work has enabled us to primarily target those criminals and their organisations that might previously have been deemed untouchables."


GUILTY: The downfall of Eddie Gray, left, and Mark Lilley was masterminded by the National Crime Squad
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 18, 2001
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