©Ian Gosling 2008
Monday 28th April 2003
Dagenham, East London –
The black Mercedes slowed and turned off into an
industrial estate followed by the two vans. Detective Constable Phil Fellows
knew where they were going. He eased off the accelerator, but he carried on past
the turning and parked at the side of the road. He called in his position as he
walked towards the truck depot. By the time he got to the gates, the three
vehicles were in the yard, and hidden from view behind a row of parked trailers.
He moved in closer, ducking under the trailers until he found a good vantage
point. There was no moon, and the scene in front of him was illuminated only by
the yellow glow of the streetlamps, in the road behind the yard.
The rear doors of the vans were open, and several men were
standing by the car. The driver of the car got out, and for a few seconds a
bulky figure in the back seat was visible in the soft glow of the car’s interior
light. The driver had his back to Fellows the smooth skin of his shaven head
reflecting the glow of the streetlamps. Though he couldn’t see the man’s face,
he knew who he was. Marcus Preston was a giant of a man and towered above the
others, as he spoke to them and pointed towards a large trailer. Two men
returned to the vans, and the others followed Preston as he walked to the
trailer. As the vans reversed towards to the trailer, Preston unlocked the back
doors, and the men disappeared inside.
Fellows watched as they transferred the cargo. He was in
his shirtsleeves and shivered in the chill night air. As it began to rain –
small puddles appearing on the ground, giving the streetlamps a hundred new
mirrors to reflect their light – he regretted leaving his coat in the car. The
men were unloaded first and herded into one of the vans; then a dozen women and
several large packages were packed into the other.
He’d witnessed similar exchanges before and knew that, the
men had another long, uncomfortable journey ahead of them. The girls and the
drugs had only a few more miles to travel.
A ragged bundle fell from the back of the trailer. Its
shape was unmistakeably human, but in the darkness Fellows couldn’t make out
whether it was a man or a woman. One of the men kicked it a couple of times, but
it didn’t stir. Then Preston bent down over the lifeless figure. He shook his
head and barked an order. The two men nearest the body bundled it back into the
The rain became heavier, turning the small puddles into
larger pools and running streams. Preston locked the trailer and ran to the car,
followed by the two van drivers. The man in the back seat lowered the rear
window and spoke to them; his face hidden in the shadows.
Fellows cursed the rain as he watched and was soaked to
the skin by the time they left the yard. As the tail lights disappeared from
sight he climbed the gate, ran back to his car and called his control room.
National Crime Squad, Hertfordshire Branch –
Detective Chief Inspector Mike Barton was a worried man.
He’d been worrying since he got the call from the Assistant Chief Constable’s
office last week. Barton had been running Operation De Niro for nearly a year
and this was only the second time that the ACC had asked for a full briefing and
an early morning one too. Barton knew it spelt trouble.
He knew why the ACC was coming this morning, his boss had
told him last week: ‘Harris is getting a lot of pressure from the Home
Office, they want to see results. Next to terrorism, drugs and illegal
immigration are top of their agenda. They need to show the public that something
is being done’.
Barton understood their agenda, but he wondered if the men
at the Home Office really understood what the war against organised crime
involved. It wasn’t like on the TV, where at the end of an hour the police have
solved the case and arrested the villains. The TV cop shows made it look so
simple; so easy.
The men behind the drug trade and the human trafficking
weren’t out on the streets among the dealers and the pimps. They operated from
comfortable offices, hiding behind legitimate business fronts, organising their
trade across international borders and moving millions of pounds around the
global banking system.
To track them down and make a solid case took months of
painstaking work; running surveillance on suspects for days, weeks, months on
end. It took dozens of officers working behind the scenes – gathering
intelligence, searching the files, sifting mountains of paperwork, and sitting
in front of computer screen for hours, inputting every scrap of information –
patiently putting together the pieces of the puzzle. But, those things wouldn’t
make good television – not enough action.
But those were the things that
Barton and his team had been doing, and they had achieved a lot; they were very
close. And now he was afraid that he was going to be ordered to make his move
before he was ready. He needed the ACC to give him more time...
©Ian Gosling 2008