Co-ordinated crackdown after campaign of arson and intimidation by ‘protection racket’ gangs

Merseyside police and government departments are co-ordinating an initiative to hit rogue security firms that are waging a campaign of arson and intimidation against construction firms in north-west England.

This comes after an escalation in violent attacks over the past 18 months, in which companies such as Bellway Homes and Gleeson have been hit. The intimidation, the product of protection rackets operated by unlicensed firms that provide site security, was first exposed in Building in June last year. It has involved arson attacks on sites and intimidation of directors and employees.

Merseyside police are now leading Operation Seahog, a crackdown involving the Department of Work and Pensions, the Inland Revenue, immigration authorities, the Health and Safety Executive, the Security Industry Authority and local councils. The initiative, which is based on anti-protection racket measures used by the New York Police Department, will involve:

  • High visibility disruption policing around sites.
  • Crackdowns on security licensing, with arrests and fines where appropriate.
  • Monthly meetings between police and construction firms.
  • Making the appointment of licensed security firms a mandatory requirement of construction contracts.
Assistant chief constable Pat Gallen, who will lead the initiative, said it had been prompted by the escalation of attacks on firms involved in the city’s regeneration.

She said: “Merseyside Police are not prepared to stand back and watch those involved in organised crime exploit the opportunities that should be reserved for genuine businesses that have something to contribute to the regeneration of the region.

“Those security firms that fail to comply [with security licensing] will be attacked from all angles by Merseyside Police and their partners.”

We hope this initiative will have an impact. We have to ensure that our staff are kept free from danger and intimidation

Richard Edgington, Bellway Homes

Bellway Homes has been hit by a series of arson attacks, including one at a 584-home housing scheme at Hunts Cross Village, west Lancashire, where an apartment block was set on fire. Directors at the firm have also received threatening text messages and phone calls.

Another arson attack was carried out in May at the £1.9m affordable housing Habitat for Humanity scheme. A security guard was also assaulted.

Richard Edgington, the managing director of Bellway Homes West Lancashire, said: “We are extremely hopeful that this will have an impact. We have to ensure that our staff are kept safe and free from danger and intimidation.”

A police source said that although this campaign was concentrated on Merseyside, there is evidence that the problem is spreading elsewhere in Britain.

Gleeson was unavailable for comment.