US News

Inside ‘secret’ world of anti-kidnap unit tackling torture gangs

From gangs using hot irons to torture drugs rivals to women being flown to Pakistan for forced marriages – and kids being ‘snatched from outside schools’.

They are just some of the cases the UK’s anti-kidnapping and extortion unit have tackled, with its boss stating: “If we get it wrong, somebody’s going to die.”

Dave Jones, from the National Crime Agency, also highlighted the issue of ‘bundlings’ – people shoved into cars – in Birmingham, which can spark a full-scale police response – despite sometimes no crime being committed.

Read more: Crime scene myths debunked as forensics boss reveals what really happens

He heads up the specialist Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit team (AKET) and gave a rare interview about its work to BirminghamLive.

Mr Jones said: “Quite often members of the public don’t realise the nature or scale of kidnap because it’s a secret world that we live in.

“The high risk elements are the taking of the individual and upon release as well. This is why we keep it secret, we keep all our methodology, covert.”

More than 600 of the UK’s most serious kidnaps are investigated by AKEU every year – with tactical advisors working alongside regional police forces to bring victims home safe.

Motives vary from money, revenge, force marriage and sexual offences.

Sarah Everard

“Sadly Sarah Everard was, as an example, kidnapped, taken away for the purposes of sexual assault and ultimately murder,” he says.

“We do see quiet often that the kidnap element is not for money, but it is for physical harm, sexual assault, rape, sometimes murder.

“I don’t want to create concern and worry for members of the public who are thinking: ‘Oh my goodness gracious me, there’s a lot of activity here in the UK – am I safe?’

“Well the answer is yes. The majority of kidnaps we deal with are what we classify as criminal vendetta.”

‘Extreme violence just stopping short of death’

Kidnap gangs taking retribution against other ‘criminals’ – sometimes using horrific torture methods – make up around 70 per cent of the offences the AKEU sees nationally.

Mr Jones won’t go into much more detail on the ‘degrading’ violence but does describe audio evidence of one victim “pleading for their lives” as they were scalded with red hot irons.

Drugs are often at the centre of the crimes.

Dave Jones, head of the anti-kidnap unit at the National Crime Agency
Dave Jones, head of the anti-kidnap unit at the National Crime Agency

“One organised crime gang and another, they may have a surplus of a commodity,” he explains. “They all make it known in the market place they’ve got it for sale.

“Another group of criminals will come along [and say] ‘we’ll have it, we’ll give you the money'”.

When dealers do not honour criminal debts, retribution can follow.

“Sometimes there’s a question of honour,” he said. “Dishonour is very much at the foremost of their minds if they’ve been ripped off by a rival kidnap gang or organised crime gangs.

“They will torture, sadly, and we have got ample evidence of torture being carried out (recorded) on the telephone, for example.

“[They] will have a red hot iron that will be put onto the back, onto the arm, onto the leg, onto the head of the hostage who is pleading for his life. Extreme violence stopping just short, really, of death.

“We see that sadly too often in the UK.”

Read more: Inside Birmingham’s kidnap gangs who torture people by cutting off their toes and snapping fingers

Despite their own crimes, many victims do come forward and co-operate amid a realisation the AKEU is often their only hope of protection.

“Everyone has got a right to life, irrespective of their background,” added Mr Smith, who has 25 years of experience in disrupting kidnap and extortion.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a millionaire or a criminal or a beggar, you must get the same service.”

A total of 511 kidnappings have been reported to West Midlands Police this year, according to a recent Freedom of Information request, with only the most serious of cases escalated to the AKEU.

In the region, 284 involved false imprisonment and 221 were listed as kidnappings while forced marriage contributed to six reports.

These type of offences have been rising over time, with 462 reports last year and 332 in 2019.

Kidnaps reported to West Midlands Police in 2021
Kidnaps reported to West Midlands Police in 2021

Victims were largely aged in their late teens to their 20s. A baby, toddlers aged two and four-year-old children were also reported to have been kidnapped in the region.

The oldest victims in the region were aged 47, the West Midlands Police figures revealed.

‘Women taken out of country for forced marriage’

Forced marriages can be linked to kidnappings, which leads to very close liaison between West Midlands Police and the NCA team.

Mr Smith said: “In the West Midlands, (if) we see an incident where a young lady has not been seen, it is reported by her friends who think she has been taken out of the country and to taken to Pakistan, for example, for the purposes of forced marriage.

“That would be a matter for West Midlands Police to receive the initial report, the families may not wish to have any engagement with law enforcement, but the friends will come to police.”

The NCA then work with ‘stakeholders’ in the other country to establish that the woman is safe and well and look at opportunities of repatriation to the UK as soon as possible.

Inside 'secret' world of anti-kidnap unit tackling torture gangs

As a city, Birmingham has its own “unique” problems when it comes to kidnap and extortion – and though forced marriage does happen in the city, he says it’s something he sees nationally too.

“West Midlands Police have an extremely well organised team of detectives that will respond robustly to any incident that relates to kidnap or extortion,” he stresses.

His NCA team do “a lot of work” with the force in Birmingham and he praised WMP as being at the “top level” for their response to such crimes.

“God forbid if I was kidnapped in Birmingham, I would have supreme confidence in them getting me back safe and well,” he adds.

Child abductions are another form of kidnap with estranged parents sometimes ‘snatching’ kids from outside school before travelling abroad.

“Sometimes we have families who are estranged and there’s children involved and mum or dad will then snatch the child away from school, and take them abroad or elsewhere,” Mr Smith explains.

“If we’ve got an incident where kids are going to school, a car turns up, then all of a sudden mums and dads will see a man coming out of a vehicle, grabbing hold of the kid and driving away at speed.”

In these difficult scenarios, it’s initially unclear for officers whether they are dealing with a child abduction by a stranger or a parental child abduction.

“So the police have to make an immediate assessment and deploy resources as a matter of urgency,” Mr Smith says.

Occasionally, assessments are made that they are in fact not dealing with a kidnap at all – such as the issue of ‘bundlings’ which he says often arise in Birmingham.

Read more: Watch chilling moment woman ‘kidnapped’ in Small Heath and bundled into car – urgent police appeal

He said: “If you’ve got in Birmingham town centre on a Friday night, people in drink, there may be some pushing and shoving, maybe a vehicle turns up, someone is thrown into a vehicle – or appears to be thrown into a vehicle – and are then driven off at speed, that’s investigated quite robustly.

“But quite often in Birmingham we have what we call bundlings.

“It’s not a kidnap at all, it may be people who are just messing around in drink, it may be there’s a bit of a domestic dispute as well that’s gone on with husband and wife.

“We will follow every lead to fully understand what we’re dealing with.”

Pranks also do happen ‘sadly’, he says, which are a “complete and utter waste of police resources.”

He pauses for a moment as his phone rings and he stops to say inform me the team have a “number of operations on the go”.

Each police force in the UK is itself tasked with responding to the allegation of kidnap but it’s a “national requirement” to inform the NCA anti-kidnap unit.

“We have an overview of all the covert, secret activity that goes on around the UK,” he adds.

“One of my duty officers (we provide a 24/7 service) will provide support to the police force that is dealing with either the kidnap or, we refer to them as crimes in action.

“So it’s happening now, law enforcement are on the back foot, because the criminals are on the front foot. They have got an individual or group that they are holding hostage, they may cause physical harm to them, they even kill on occasions as well.”

Unlike burglaries or criminal damage, he stresses, police and the NCA have recourses to “pull out all the stops” after a kidnap or extortion report.

BrumWish 2021 aims to get thousands of Christmas gifts to young children in need across our city – the homeless, the vulnerable, kids in care and kids who have little.

This year’s appeal is bigger and better than ever – because we have teamed up with our partners at #Toys4Birmingham, including Thrive Together Birmingham, the Birmingham Playcare Network, the Edgbaston Foundation and Birmingham Forward Steps.

Also involved are Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Barnardo’s, Spurgeon’s children’s charity, the Springfield project in Sparkhill, St Paul’s Community Development Trust and Your Local Pantry, which runs food hubs in 12 locations across Birmingham and the Black Country.

You can buy a gift from the #Brumwish Amazon Wishlist here.

Or you can collect and drop off donations of new and nearly new toys and gifts to special donation days at Edgbaston Stadium, B5 7QU, on Saturday November 27, Friday December 3 and Saturday December 4, from 11am to 3pm, where volunteers will be waiting to see you.

Brand new or nearly new, unwrapped gifts, books and toys for all ages will be accepted.

You can also donate cash, which will go into a fund held by a charity partner to use to plug gaps or buy specialist toys for children with additional needs. This is the link to make a donation.

“It’s totally and utterly different with kidnap and blackmail because we are potentially dealing with threats to life,” he adds.

His team of 15 tactical advisors, alongside other NCA teams, covers the whole of the UK and can give police forces the additional resource they need if necessary.

Mr Smith added: “So let’s say a job breaks at 9.07am this morning… I would expect a telephone call within one hour from the senior detective who is investigating into my duty officer who will take an immediate assessment into what needs to be done from a NCA perspective. We will then support their objectives.

Officers from the NCA are spaced across the UK and “can be anywhere within an hour” to support forces to ensure the safety of victims.

Mr Smith added: “We are the envy of the world as far as kidnap management is concerned. It’s copied around the world as well as a good working model.

“We will bring your loved ones home safe and well, that is our objective at the end of the day. Have confidence, ring 999 if you become aware of a kidnap situation.

“We also prevent, making sure vulnerable communities are contacted, listen to their concerns, work in partnership with the police in order to deliver messages of confidence to them and try to encourage them: ‘If you have a problem, don’t deal with it yourself, come to us.'”

Have you been affected by this? You can contact us in confidence by emailing [email protected]

We send out daily court and crime updates straight to our email inbox – sign up for them here.




Source link

Back to top button