Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

IT’S a tropical paradise frequented  by A-list stars including Kim Kardashian, Brad Pitt, Cara Delevingne and Rihanna.

But the Turks And Caicos Islands, which lure 1.5million visitors a year, have a dark underbelly as gangs battle to control drug trafficking routes.

GettyThe Turks and Caicos Islands are home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches – and most violent criminals[/caption]

Many celebrities including Kim Kardashian are among the islands’ 1.5 million yearly visitorsInstagram

Hailey Bieber is among the famous faces to have visited the islandsInstagram/Hailey Bieber

They openly fire automatic weapons in a brutal turf war which has now spilled over into upmarket resort areas — with one tourist shot dead last year.

And police claim the killer of a British woman called them around 20 minutes after the victim raised the alarm to brag: “‘I’ve killed the bitch.”

An internal Foreign Office probe reveals the British territory is “overwhelmed” by gang violence and local cops are no longer to cope.

The Sun can today expose the extent of worries over police operations on the islands, with 24 British officers, funded by UK taxpayers, drafted in late last year.

Denise Buck, 60, who moved there from Pulborough, West Sussex, in 2007, was bludgeoned to death in her home in Grand Turk in ­January last year.

Her sister Lesley Campbell claims local police botched the initial investigation — failing to interview Denise’s neighbours or check phone records and bank statements.

It’s understood that DNA samples from the crime scene have only been sent for testing in recent weeks.

Lesley, 67, of Farnborough, Hants, said: “The local police have done little to catch Denise’s killer.

“They told us someone claiming to be her killer called them and said, ‘I’ve killed the bitch, come and get her. I’ve ­murdered before and I’ll do it again’.

The levels of violence exceed any in the UK or any overeas British territoryTim Clarke

‘Police are not just incompetent but lazy’

“They had no recording of the conversation. They said their equipment was wiped out by Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“It had never been replaced, and that sums up the whole problem.

“Officers did the most basic investigation then we were cast adrift as a family by everyone involved, including the Foreign Office which has been next to useless.”

Last October American Army veteran and racial justice leader Kent Carter, 40, died in a hail of bullets as he and girlfriend Alonia Williams returned to their £850-a-night, five-star Ritz hotel in Grace Bay.

Drug lords were targeting their driver, according to The Sun’s sources.

Last Thursday, two men were shot dead near the island’s international airport — and in Augus, horrified tourists saw an armed, masked gang kill a man in broad daylight in the same bay area, which boasts Trip-advisor’s “world number one beach”.

A police source told us: “Four ­gunmen just got out of the car and freely fired AK47s. The violence is spreading into upmarket areas.”

The islands are at the centre of a drug turf war between locals, Haitians, Jamaicans and Dominican gangs who all want a slice of a lucrative route to Miami and Florida Keys, both 700 miles away.

The territory, which has a population of just 45,000, recorded 35 murders last year compared to just four in 2017. Fifteen people have been killed so far this year.

Last November, a local three-year-old boy, his father and pregnant mother were all killed in gang-related shootings.

The mayhem has mainly been ­confined to pockets of the islands where shanty towns have sprung up full of desperate immigrants who arrive in Turks and Caicos in their droves.

FacebookA team of British police officers have flown to the islands but their attempts to solve crimes are not straightforward[/caption]

Sources told The Sun how local cops have hampered the efforts of British officers to tackle violence.

One told us: “They do everything in their power to make life difficult because they see them as ‘colonials’.

“For instance, if there’s only six computers in a building, the British police have to wait to get access to them, sometimes for hours.

“Eight retired firearms officers were shipped in to help but they sat in the nick for six weeks because no body armour had been ordered for them.

“In my opinion, the police are not just incompetent but lazy.”

Police commissioner Trevor Botting, due to retire next month, said he was unable to comment on Denise’s ­murder investigation but insisted “all lines of inquiry are being followed.”

He admitted visiting UK officers faced a “short delay” on body armour and issues over access to computers “for a short period” but added: “This didn’t affect the operations of the force.”

The worst-hit area is Dock Yard on the island Providenciales, which even hardened police avoid at night.

A local told us: “It’s like the wild west. When the police go in, it’s in an armoured vehicle and they are armed to the teeth. They never go in at night because it’s too dangerous.”

In August, customs officers working with cops seized a marijuana haul with a street value of £400,000 being smuggled into Providenciales.

The Foreign Office report identified a string of failures in the local police force, including no management structure for serious crimes, limited forensic capabilities and an insistence on recording crime on paper rather than a British government database.

It said the “levels of murder, violent crime and the use of firearms exceed anything experienced by the UK, or any other British overseas territory.”

Commissioner Botting said the report related to a review carried out last year and was “out of date”.

‘Someone was breaking into her house’

A separate report by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University found that residents believed corruption was the “second most important crime concern after murder” and was widely prevalent in the island’s “public service system”.

Our source told us: “It’s well-known that immigration officers take backhanders to allow in drugs or people.”

Former deputy premier Floyd Hall was found guilty of bribery earlier this month at the end of a decade-long corruption case.

Island attorney Clayton Greene was found guilty of concealing the ­proceeds of criminal conduct.

The pair were arrested after officials in Britain suspended the Turks And Caicos government in 2009 and imposed direct rule after it uncovered a “high probability of systematic corruption” with the authority.

In 2018, New York public defender Marie Kuhnla was strangled to death during a holiday at the Club Med Resort in Grace Bay.

Her body was found in bushes and her family say cops initially told them she had tripped over and died.

But in June last year a Turks And Caicos jury ruled that she had been ­strangled to death.

A private investigator hired by 61-year-old Marie’s family found that she may have also been sexually assaulted. Their attorney, Abe George, accused cops of a cover-up.

Ex-governor Nigel Dakin, a British diplomat, left his post in March this year and has been replaced by lawyer Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam, who was director of the inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

There is no suggestion that Mr Dakin or the police force are involved in corruption.

Commissioner Botting said “excellent progress” has been made since the Foreign Office report.

He said from January to September there had been 15 murders compared to 29 in the same period last year.

He added that in recent months suspects have been charged with murder, firearms possession and offences under new anti-gang legislation.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the British government will work with the new governor, including training and increasing police numbers, adding that local police are “actively pursuing the investigation” into Denise Buck’s murder.

As the territory tries to get to grips with its drug problem, Denise’s sibling Lesley can only hope for justice.

She said: “My sister called the police to say someone was breaking into her house and her killer called them 19 minutes later.

“It’s hard to think what she might have gone through in those final minutes.”

HandoutUS Army veteran Kent Carter died in a hail of bullets while visiting the islands[/caption]

Family HandoutTourist Marie Kuhnla was found strangled and cops have been accused of a cover-up[/caption]

Brit Denise Buck was killed in her dream home on the islands last yearSupplied

FacebookThe islands are at the centre of a drug raid war with gangs fighting for territory[/caption]

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