Ricky Garner and Matthew Harwozinski imported dozens of blank firearms from the Czech Republic and converted them into deadly weapons in a workshop in Elstow.
These weapons and the associated ammunition have found their way into the criminal underworld not only here in Bedfordshire, but also in London and in Birmingham.
A combination of good intelligence, proactive policing and sheer persistence on behalf of our officers has taken dozens of these lethal weapons off the streets and stopped any further supply into our county.
On Friday Harwozinski was sentenced to life imprisonment and will serve a minimum term of 11 years eight months, minus the time he has already spent in custody. Garner will serve at least half his sentence of 20 years and three months before he is considered for release on licence.
Bedfordshire undoubtedly faces a challenge with serious and organised crime. Bedfordshire Police and our colleagues at the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) are managing a huge number of Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) that are based in or have an impact in the county.
Within the Eastern region, Bedfordshire had the highest number of firearms discharges and the second highest number of firearms incidents last year. Plus, many groups in Bedfordshire are now adopting the ‘county lines’ model of those from major cities, muscling into new areas and taking over their drugs markets through violence, intimidation and the exploitation of young people.
We as officers will do all we can to tackle gangs, OCGs and anyone else involved in dealing drugs and other commodities such as firearms. The fact Bedfordshire’s SOCU has been able to mount such a proactive and wide ranging investigation as Operation Lattice is testament to the dedication and talent we have in our ranks.
But we know there is much more to be done to get a grip on organised crime in our county. The public can play a major part in this.
Submitting information to us is vitally important, especially in areas where vulnerable people are being exploited. OCGs are often linked to things such as child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, and will also take advantage of children to lure them into county lines drug dealing. Children not even in their teens yet are among those we know have been targeted.
There are a number of signs to look out for. County lines dealers are often involved in ‘cuckooing’, where they take over a vulnerable person’s home and use it as a base to deal drugs. This might become apparent if there are people coming and going from the property at all hours, if the person who lives there becomes withdrawn or has unexplained injuries, or if there is a rise in antisocial behaviour at the location.
Similarly, a young person involved in county lines drug dealing may suddenly start buying expensive clothes, shoes and jewellery with their newfound wealth. Now we are in the school holidays, they may be away from home for hours or even days at a time, or hanging out with different friends, particularly from older age groups.
Terminology is also important. Young people involved in county lines sometimes call it “going cuntch”, “going country”, or “going OT”. Reporting this sort of information, either using our online reporting tool or through 101, can be vitally important in stopping this exploitation and helping keep vulnerable people in Bedfordshire safe from dangerous criminals.
Chief Superintendent Mark Lay
Head of Intelligence, SOCU, Cyber & Corporate Services