A project designed to guard against organised crime among West Balkan communities in Bury has the support of Deputy Metro Mayor Bev Hughes.

Bury is one of two pilot areas, alongside Norwich, participating in a wide-ranging Home Office initiative to combat lawlessness among ‘hidden communities’ from the Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian and Kosovan diasporas.

Several recent cases have thrown the spotlight on West Balkans criminality.

Lorry driver Vladan Petrovic, from Serbia, was jailed for 25 years for smuggling £5m worth of cocaine into the UK via Heywood. Cannabis farmer Besmir Stroni, who paid £10,000 to come to the UK from Albania, was jailed for 12 months after he was caught tending a crop at a Bury house.

And a 29-year-old Albanian national living in Ramsbottom was charged, with two others, in January 2021 after Border Force investigators found £100,000 behind the dashboard of a Mercedes at the Channel Tunnel terminal in Kent.

Records released by the Deputy Mayor’s office, as part of the Western Balkans Serious and Organised Crime Community Co-ordinator programme in Bury, that Bury Council received £17,839 plus £3,320 VAT to undertake research into ‘hidden communities’. Another £19,718 went to Greater Manchester Police (GMP) for an intelligence gathering plan.

Another £50,000 was allotted to two over-arching West Balkans schemes in London and Brighton.

In a report to the city region’s police and crime panel, it was said the funds would “provide vital learning and understanding of how to engage and empower these communities, building resilience against serious and organised crime threats, that we can learn from in the local Bury-based project.”

A Bury Council spokesman said: “The work is in the early stages and is bringing together elements of enforcement and engagement activity. An early piece of work has involved a piece of stakeholder engagement and analysis to inform some initial insight work, as the first stage of better understanding Western Balkan communities within the borough, in terms of demographics, access to services and connectivity.”

The spokesman said a ‘community co-ordinator’ was being actively recruited, which was “likely to be a seconded inspector/detective inspector from within GMP”.

He added: “We’re taking learning from other pilot areas which have commenced prior to Bury to develop tailored insight and engagement activity and there will be further updates through community safety partnership reporting.

Council officials say GMP has been leading on the operation but the force remained unavailable for comment despite repeated approaches.