April 19, 2021
Crackdown on Gang Members Using Illicit Mobile Phones in Prison
Illegal phones, electrical devices and drugs have been seized following an operation to crack down on organised crime gang members operating inside HMP Forest Bank.
The first operation of its kind in the country, Dragonfire sees Greater Manchester Police (GMP), HMPPS and North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (NWROCU) working with the prison to crackdown on the use of illicit mobile phones in the prison.
Targeted cell searches recovered, 14 phones, two devices similar to a Wi-Fi router, a large number of steroids, several sim cards and other electrical contraband, all of which will prove highly disruptive to the criminal network.
With support from GMP's Drone and Tactical Dog unit and NWROCU, a range of covert and overt patrols were deployed. This led to six arrests and six packages intercepted, which included three phones, tobacco, cannabis, cigarette papers, spice laced lined paper, lighters, and screwdrivers, used to hide contraband.
Prisoner access to mobile phones is illegal, and can compromise site security, posing risks to other prisoners, staff and the public. Once inside, mobile phones can be used by prisoners to continue operating as part of an organised gang. Illicit phones can be used to:
- Co-ordinate throw overs of further prohibited items, such as phones and drugs
- Intimidate witnesses
- Continue to manage organised crime networks
Driven by intelligence, Dragonfire has been established to target the higher tiers of criminal networks in Greater Manchester, specifically those deemed to be the highest threat, both inside and outside HMP Forest Bank.
The operation is designed not only to remove illegal mobile phones which have made their way into the prison, but also target those facilitating the 'throw overs' and communicating with offenders behind bars – all of which are a criminal offence.
Those making illegal contact with prisoners will be cautioned and advised that they are breaking the law and the consequences of doing so.
Matt Spencer, Director of HMP Forest Bank said: “Mobile phones in prisons constitute a significant threat to the security of the prison, undermining prison discipline, public safety and public confidence in the justice system.
“HMP Forest Bank is one of the largest, busiest and most complex prisons in the country with challenging populations, including the highest number of organised crime group males in the North West.
“We are constantly reviewing our activities in response to illicit phones but acknowledge that we always have more to do to disrupt organised crime networks.
“Multi-agency operations like Dragonfire have a huge impact, and I would like to extend my thanks to all involved.”
Detective Chief Inspector Chris Mossop from Programme Challenger at Greater Manchester Police said: "We have become aware of alternative ways people are smuggling phones into prison. The suspension of social visits due to the Covid-19 pandemic is believed to be linked to an increase in the number of phone throw overs, which has become a prevalent issue in prisons.
"Working in partnership with HMP Forest Bank, HMPPS and NWROCU, we are able to prosecute those involved. GMP's involvement, often means that those caught using the banned mobile phones receive an increased prison sentence, and I hope this serves as a stark warning to all involved.
"Patrols will remain in place, and we continue to take this extremely seriously. I would also ask anyone with any information in the event of throw overs taking place, or any information relating to this type of crime to report into us.
"We regularly rely on the public for information and continue to act upon intel that comes into us to continue to drive our strategies and operations forwards."