How operation ‘Crayfish’ to take down Manchester gangs netted top drugs baron


The number one target for Interpol was asleep in bed when Dutch police stormed his hideaway armed with stun grenades and automatic weapons. The crack police unit had spent months watching him before they swooped.

It was the culmination of a secret operation codenamed Crayfish and billed as one of the defining police investigations of the 1990s. Crayfish was led by the north west regional crime squad and based in a secret location off the M62 motorway, known to police on the unit as ‘Fraggle Rock’.

Initially, it was launched to target the powerful drugs gangs which had emerged in Liverpool and Manchester, but Toxteth man Curtis Warren soon became its ‘target number one’, reports the Liverpool Echo.

When Warren switched from Liverpool to Holland the Crayfish team shared intelligence with their Dutch counterparts. The Holland based police operation, codenamed Prisma, was determined to smash Warren’s gang which included veteran criminals from across the north west.

Some of Warren’s conversations with his criminal associates were bugged by police. However the Dutch based team had problems understanding Warren’s unique brand of back slang he picked up on the streets of Toxteth. In one conversation with a man identified as TB, Warren was heard ordering his associate to beat a man up:

CW: “You’d better get round to that Jamie’s and smash his kipper in”

TB: “Oh I’m going round there”

CW: “Don’t let him talk his way out of it you know.”

TB : “Oh I know he’s not going to. I’m going to hammer him.”

Curtis Warren

The bug also overheard Warren discussing rival criminals such as John Haase and Paul Bennett. The two north Liverpool men received life sentences in 1995 after being linked to a plot to flood the country with Turkish heroin. Haase and Bennett were freed from prison just 11 months into their 18 year sentences after Home Secretary Michael Howard, acting on the recommendation of senior officials and judges, handed them a Royal Pardon.

However it later emerged that the two men had provided police with bogus information about fabricated weapons’ dumps across Merseyside. Police had tapped Warren’s phone and heard him chatting to a man, initialled TB in the transcript, about Haase and Bennett:

TB: “A big thing in the ECHO about them other two.”

CW: “What is it saying?”

TB: “Showed all the guns they give over and all that. But the police are saying we know it was their own guns, they are are saying they are not supergrasses and all that. Their customs fella said ‘Look the only way you get that time off a sentence is when you give us good information which they done.'”

CW: “Yeah.”

TB: “We helped them they helped us. They are supposed to be living in Mexico somewhere.”

CW: “Mexico.”

TB: “Dear me.”

CW: “Mad aren’t they.”

TB: “Bet they are sick that come out son.”

CW: “Well they wont be happy.”

Warren was also heard talking about Haase and Bennett during another phone call.

TB: “There was a big thing in the [Liverpool] Post today, said they were working for MI5.”

CW: “Yeah.”

TB: “They were to grass people up on a big arms deal coming into the country and loads of our gear and all that. They have done a good job. But now, because their cover is blown, they are no good to anyone so they had to let them off.”

Warren remains in jail

The Metropolitan Police later revealed the full extent of the plan to free Haase and Bennett. The two men received life sentences in 2008 for their part in a plot to pervert the course of justice.

While Warren and his associates were incarcerated in some of Holland’s more notorious jails, the Primsa team flew to the UK to try and find out more about Warren’s commercial interests. The Sunday Times famously included Warren in their Rich List. However the Crayfish team struggled to identify Warren’s reported £40m fortune.

Warren was convicted of trying to mastermind a £125million drugs shipment from the Netherlands into the UK and sentenced to 12 years in 1996. Operation Crayfish also led to a bizarre sub-plot concerning a television personality and a serving police officer. During the phone-tapping, officers suddenly began to hear references by Warren and his associates to an “Elly”.

Warren was heard talking to close friend Tony Bray about an attempted shooting outside the infamous Venue nightclub, in Green Lane, Tuebrook, in July 1996. Warren’s good friend, Philip Glennon Jnr, was suspected of trying to shoot two bouncers who had slung him out after a kick-off inside.

Mike Ahearne

But the gun jammed and Glennon was arrested by a passing police patrol. Soon, the wire-taps picked up Warren telling Bray to offer Elly £20,000 to make the gun disappear from its current site within a police evidence room. By that point, those listening in knew Elly was in fact DCI Elmore Davies, former deputy head of the Merseyside police drugs squad and crime manager at Tuebrook police station, where the gun was being stored.

But the weapon had already been sent off for testing. Instead, Davies offered Warren the witness statements from the case and he would push for it to be dropped.

Using TV Gladiator Mike Ahearne, better known to millions of fans as Warrior from the popular Saturday night show, as a go-between, Davies passed details of the car, home and children’s nursery trips of a key police officer in the case in return for £10,000 from Bray.

In 1998 Ahearne, Bray and Davies were all jailed for attempting to pervert the course of justice. While the sentences handed down to Warren and some of his associates were seen as a win for the police, the problem of drug related organised crime did not go away.

Some of the material in this story first appeared in Cocky by Tony Barnes, Richard Elias and Peter Walsh

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