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While ‘drill’ rap is not the sole cause of a spike in violence in the UK, it glamorises gun and knife crime

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glamorises gun and knife use

After receiving requests from police in London, Google-owned video-streaming platform YouTube has taken down a number of “drill” rap music videos that senior officers had claimed were helping to fuel a spate of violent crime across the UK. This followed a recent uptick in knife and gun crime in London that saw the city’s murder rate surpass that of New York last month, despite Britain’s notoriously restrictive gun laws. Over the course of the past two years, the Metropolitan Police has asked YouTube to remove as many as 60 drill rap videos that it claimed were inciting young men to commit violent crimes against gang rivals. The social media giant is said to have taken down over 30 of these, having discovered they violated its own policies. YouTube is also said to have developed new procedures to help its moderators identify and remove content related to knife and gun crime. But despite its recently-reported action, the platform still hosts numerous drill music videos in which young men, many of whom hide their faces behind masks, can be heard openly rapping about their readiness to resort to violence and willingness to use knives and firearms.

Drill rap videos routinely feature footage of young men posturing in gangs of varying sizes around social housing estates in inner-city locations, where they issue violent threats to their rivals and boast about their connections with the drugs trade, and the sometimes unpleasant manner in which they treat women. Viewers who are not up to speed with many of the slang terms drill rappers use are left in little doubt as to the content of the lyrics that accompany the videos, thanks to many of the artists who appear in them regularly making shooting and stabbing motions with their hands as they rap over sparse, sinister sounding beats. Discussing the threat posed by drill rap music during a radio interview earlier this month, Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick said social media firms have a responsibility to take down any material that might incite violence, noting: “[The videos] describe stabbing with great detail, and [with] great joy, obscene violence against women.”

Supporters of drill rap, which originates from Chicago, argue it is simply another in a long line of music genres that officials have tried to ban on account of a perceived malign influence on young people. However, it is hard to argue against the fact that few other types of music have been so inextricably linked with gang violence. Even artists from the 1990s golden era of US hip-hop failed to describe knife and gun crime with such casual glee as modern UK drill artists do routinely throughout their material. It is also commonly argued that the young men who make UK drill rap are simply reflecting the lives they and their contemporaries live in their lyrics, and that their art is not one of the many root causes of rising levels of violent crime in Britain. This suggestion would carry more weight if it were not for the fact that a number of young people have lost their lives on the streets of the UK as a result of threats issued in drill rap videos. Where once rivalries between rappers would be played out as much for the entertainment of listeners and fans than anything else, the gang affiliations of many drill artists can lead to situations in which individuals feel it becomes a question of honour and respect to carry out the threats they make in their songs.

This February, teenage rapper Junior Simpson was jailed for life after he and two others were convicted of stabbing 15-year-old Jermaine Goupall to death in South London. A court heard how Simpson had written lyrics describing the circumstances of the attack before it took place, and that Goupall had died following a series of threats issued between rival gangs in online music videos. Earlier this month, two young men who had appeared on popular rap DJ Tim Westwood’s YouTube channel were jailed for murdering a filmmaker. The Old Bailey heard how Devone Pusey, 20, and Kai Stewart, 18, knifed Dean Pascal-Modeste, 22, to death after making threats on drill rap videos. Also this month, it was reported that aspiring rapper Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton was shot dead after he recorded a rap video during which he challenged a rival group.

To blame the recent spike in violent crime in the UK solely on drill rap would be ridiculous, but it would be equally as thoughtless to argue that the genre does not play a role in glamorising the use of guns and knives, or that it has not been directly linked to incidents in which online threats have resulted in the loss of life. Social media firms have a moral responsibility to offer drill artists freedom of expression as much as they should a legal one to take down material that might incite violence, but in many cases, drill rap videos that remain accessible on YouTube openly promote the use of extreme violence. The social, political and economic drivers behind rising violent crime in Britain are complex, but it would be foolish to ignore the pernicious effect drill rap is having on some young people.

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Police in Spain smash sham marriage network that charged migrants €12,000 for bogus nuptials

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police in Spain smash sham marriage network

Spanish police have arrested 30 suspected members of a sham marriage network that facilitated illegal immigration by setting up partnerships of convenience.

In an operation backed by Europol, investigators from Spain’s Policía Nacional carried out 11 raids on multiple residential and business premises, seizing more than €10,000 ($11,093) in cash along with evidence that indicted those detained were involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration and document fraud.

Members of the network are said to have set up sham marriages between male illegal immigrants and Spanish women, allowing the men to formalise their stay in the European Union.

Migrants seeking to avail themselves of the gang’s services would be charged as much as €12,000, with their bogus partners being paid €3,000 for agreeing to enter into fake marriages.

Members of the gang, which was made up of members of both Moroccan and Spanish origin, used a complex web of shell companies to facilitate the conspiracy, and had also set up a sophisticated money laundering operation, through which their profits were funnelled.

The network was based in the Valencia town of Sagunto, but also had bases in Morocco, Belgium, France and Italy, a fact that triggered the involvement of Europol.

In a statement, the EU law enforcement agency said: “Europol provided coordination and analytical support and facilitated the information exchange.

“On the action day, Europol also deployed experts on-the-spot to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases and to provide technical expertise.”

The investigation that led to the dismantling of the network was launched after Spanish police were alerted to potential irregularities in residence permit applications in Sagunto.

The two alleged leaders of network, a Spaniard and a Frenchman both of Moroccan origin, owned several companies in Sagunto, through which the Spanish women to whom migrants were married were employed.

Migrants who used the network’s services would either remain in Spain or be transported by the gang to France or Belgium.

In January of last year, police in Belgium and Portugal broke up an organised criminal gang that paid mostly Portuguese women to enter into sham marriages with Pakistani men.

Investigators arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids in an operation that targeted a network that was said to have paid women thousands of euros to marry the illegal immigrants.

Back in August 2018, law enforcement agencies in Romania and Poland held five members of an organised crime gang suspected of being behind the arrangement of sham marriages for Indian and Nepali nationals looking to gain access to the EU.

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US scientists develop edible security tags to thwart drug counterfeiters

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edible security tags

Researchers at Purdue University have created a small edible tag that can be embedded into medicines in order to prevent the counterfeiting of drugs.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the institution explain that drug counterfeiters would need to decipher complicated patterns not fully visible to the naked eye to get round the new security system.

The edible tags serve as digital fingerprints for individual pills and capsules, and are intended to help pharmacists verify the legitimacy of their stock before dispensing it to patients as well as being a method to discourage the counterfeiting of medicines.

According to the researchers, their invention uses an authentication technique called physical unclonable functions (PUF) that generate a different response each time they are stimulated, meaning that even drug manufacturers would not be able to recreate tags.

Taking the form of a transparent film made of silk and fluorescent proteins, the tags are easily digestible, meaning they can be consumed by patients when they take their mediation.

Commenting on the new technology, Jung Woo Leem, a postdoctoral associate in biomedical engineering at Purdue, said in a statement: “Our concept is to use a smartphone to shine an LED light on the tag and take a picture of it. The app then identifies if the medicine is genuine or fake.”

The tags currently last for at least two months before the proteins start to degrade, but Leem and his team are working on extending their life so as they can last until the expiry date of the drugs they are intended to protect.

As well as holding a security key that can verify the authenticity of medication, the tags could also hold other information, such as dosage instructions.

Leem has made two patent applications to protect the tags through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialisation.

According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in November 2017, 10% of all pharmaceutical products circulating in low and middle-income countries at that time were either fake or of substandard quality.

The WHO said the trade in illicit pharmaceuticals is controlled by major organised crime networks who often channel their profits into other forms of illicit activity.

In March of last year, Europol revealed that a crackdown it had led on the sale of illicit pharmaceuticals across 16 countries in 2018 resulted in the seizure of some 13 million doses of counterfeit or smuggled medicines.

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British charity Dogs Trust warns pet lovers about being ‘dogfished’ by puppy smugglers

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‘dogfished’ by puppy smugglers

UK animal protection charity Dogs Trust has revealed that thousands of Britons may have been conned into buying puppies smuggled into the country illegally by organised criminal gangs in a practice it has dubbed “dogfishing”.

In a survey of 2,000 owners of puppies designed to establish how many may have purchased their pet from gangs that smuggled young dogs into the UK from countries in eastern Europe, the charity spoke with many animal lovers who described puppy dealers offering discounts for quick sales and lying about the age and breed of dogs.

The poll found that more than half (51%) of puppy buyers were not allowed to see the animal they were purchasing more than once, while 43% were not offered the chance to visit the puppy with its mother, which Dogs Trust described as two signs all might not be well.

Nineteen percent of respondents said they were not able to collect their puppy from the seller’s home, of whom a “worrying number” said they were asked to collect their new pet in a carpark or layby.

One woman told Dogs Trust how she was left heartbroken after purchasing a puppy that she saw advertised online on Christmas Eve, only to have to rush it to a vet for emergency treatment on Christmas Day because it had contracted parvo virus, a highly contagious and potentially fatal condition that causes lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The puppy had to be put down.

Launching a new campaign named Don’t Be Dogfished, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director said: “People think they are getting a healthy, happy puppy but behind the curtain lurks the dark depths of the puppy smuggling trade.

“Many of these poor puppies suffer significant health conditions or lifelong behavioural challenges, and sadly some don’t survive, leaving their buyers helpless and heartbroken – as well as out of pocket.

“This is why we are touring the country in a van like those used by puppy smugglers to educate the public on the shocking realities of the puppy smuggling trade and advising them how they can take action to avoid being ‘dogfished’.

“If it seems too good to be true, as hard as it is, walk away and report it.”

Many organised crime gangs across Europe have moved into puppy smuggling owing to the huge profit it returns for relatively little risk.

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