From organised crime and dog-fighting rings to international police cooperation and animal welfare specialists working together to keep animals and humans safe, Mark Randell looks back on his time in Greece.
Athens was the first, and fortunately only, place that I’ve experienced an earthquake. At 5.1 in its epicenter, it was enough to make buildings rattle and the city shook for a nerve-jangling 15 seconds. That day I travelled to the temple of Poseidon, the God of the Sea, Earthquakes, Horses and Cattle. Of the three brothers, Zeus was given the skies and Hades the underworld. Grumpy Poseidon did quite well, I think. As he struck the ground with his Trident, he caused earthquakes, so mythology tells us.
As a Detective in the police, I worked closely with Operation Trident, the Metropolitan Police gun crime team, for many years. It was perhaps fitting therefore that in July 2020 my work in Greece should see a dog fighting, and organized crime, gang ‘taken down’ by the Hellenic Police.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to present to Senior European Police Commanders in Athens about how serious crime and animal abuse and exploitation was interlinked. It was during this visit to the city that I met a wonderful lawyer for animals and the Pan-Hellenic Animal Welfare Federation, a meeting that would lead to five years of a project across Greece aimed at changing attitudes to animals, most specifically about how animal crimes were investigated and prosecuted. Later that year, police officers from across the 2000 islands met at the Benaki Museum to hear from United States’ specialists including the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
After the launch, we started working closely with individual police officers, prosecutors, animal volunteers and veterinary surgeons. The main objective was to show how animal abuse rarely happens in isolation, often connected to family violence and even serial killers. The safest communities are those in which everyone feels safe, and that includes animals.
I was already working on an undercover investigation relating to dog fighting around the world and I’d identified gangs across Greece. I collaborated with a brilliant journalist in Athens to expose what these gangs were doing with this cruelest of ‘sports’ and how it was so often connected to gun crime. We identified one individual who operated around Piraeus, the port from where the ferries travel to the Cyclades, Dodecanese and North Aegean. We briefed the Serious Crime Police and in July last year raids were carried out that recovered a cache of guns, 20k Euros and sadly, five fighting dogs. The gang had been terrorizing businesses in the port using horrific violence, including causing a number of explosions. Today the gang are in jail.
Greece still has a long way to go, and daily I hear stories of abuse across the islands but the new Minister of the Greek Parliament, Makis Voridis has announced new penalties for animal abuse, the toughest in Europe. He has also stated that animals who are subject to cruelty can more easily be seized and given new homes. Change is slowly happening. As the Greek orator Demosthenis said nearly 2,500 years ago, “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.”