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©Ian Gosling 2008

Chapter 1

Monday 28th April 2003

Dagenham, East London – 04:00 BST

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 trailer.

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 – 06:25 BST

 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

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