Pubdate:  Sun, 9 Jan 2000
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 2000
Author: Tony Thompson


The number of Britons using cocaine on a regular basis has for the
first time outstripped the numbers using heroin, according to new
research by the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The NCIS will
not specify a precise figure, but separate research by Liverpool
University reveals there are currently an estimated 600,000 regular
cocaine users in the UK, more than twice the estimated 250,000 regular
heroin users.

The shock statistics emerge as an investigation by The Observer
reveals that the explosion in cocaine use has given birth to a new
breed of multimillionaire drug dealer, with organised criminals
rushing to profit from a trade that has grown by 750 per cent in the
past decade. Rather than taking the risk of plying their trade on the
streets a few grams at a time, these new cocaine entrepreneurs have
filled a gap in the market and provide high-quality, low-cost bulk
shipments to other dealers who are finding their traditional suppliers
can no longer keep up with demand or compete with ever falling prices.

The new dealers, usually in their mid-thirties, rarely trade in loads
worth less than pounds 100,000, but reduce the risk of being caught by
selling only to those they know well and taking advantage of the
latest telecommunications, including e-mail and the Internet, to
ensure they stay ahead of the authorities.

According to Professor Russell Newcombe, lecturer in drug studies at
Liverpool University, there is on average one cocaine dealer for every
30 users. 'On that basis, there are at any given time up to 20,000
dealers operating at some level across Britain. That means between 100
and 200 dealers operating in each major town. They will have a few
dozen distributors above them providing the drugs which have been
supplied by two or three big operators.'

The new dealers have pitched themselves between the distributors and
the dealers. Previously anyone dealing more than an ounce at a time
would have to be in contact with major criminals. During last week's
Channel 4 Coked Up documentary strand, one low-level dealer revealed
his shock at discovering his suppliers were linked directly to the
IRA. Another spoke of his apprehension in dealing with those higher up
the chain. 'If the people I'm dealing to knew about the people that
supply me they would be shocked. There is real violence and aggression
in them.'

Last week 34-year-old Roger Ormsby was found dead in his burnt-out BMW
in a Manchester side street. He had been shot in the head at close
range three times. Detective Superintendent Andy Tattersall, the man
leading the murder hunt, said it was the work of a rival drugs gang.

Concern about the growth of the cocaine market is leading to action at
the highest levels. Following its success against Turkish crime
syndicates responsible for 90 per cent of the heroin brought into
Britain, the NCIS is now believed to be planning to launch similar
initiatives against the burgeoning cocaine trade. 'If it didn't
involve organised crime then we wouldn't be interested,' said an NCIS
source. 'We'll be looking at how it comes into the country and who's
distributing it and then going after them. We're not interested in
playground dealers.'

MI6 and Special Branch are also known to have been drafted in to help
the war against international drug traffickers.

Few dealers operating at such levels are willing to speak to the
press, even with guarantees of anonymity. Among the few who get to
know such people intimately are the officers from Scotland Yard's
elite SO10 undercover operations squad who regularly infiltrate such
gangs for 'sting' operations.

One officer, who uses the codename Alan, told The Observer that such
gangsters rarely live up to the expectations of the public. 'At that
level, you have to be extremely professional, very level-headed. Most
big dealers don't take any drugs. A lot of them don't even drink.
Everything is planned down to the finest detail. They treat the whole
thing like a business and work on the principle that someone is always
watching them or listening in on their calls. They practise
anti-surveillance techniques as a matter of routine.'

An analysis of a typical buying operations shows how, at this high
level, a complex set of protocols has evolved to ensure neither party
is ripped off. At least six people are needed for a successful sale.
The buyer and dealer will meet at a prearranged location and make
their way to the purchase site.

Once there, the buyer will call his money man, normally close by in a
car with a minder. They will drive to the address and the dealer will
send a representative out to check the money. If all is satisfactory,
the dealer will send yet another associate of the buyer in another
vehicle to examine the drugs. If that is satisfactory, the money and
drugs are brought to the property and exchanged.

Both sides will generally have lookouts and back up in case of


Noel Gallagher:

The older Oasis brother, Noel Gallagher, said he was stung when Tony
Blair teased him about his cocaine use and decided it was time to kick
the habit. He has now moved to the country to get away from the London
drug set.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson:

The 'It' girl created a media career by appearing at as many parties
as possible. Last year she admitted it was all too much and was
treated for her cocaine problem at an exclusive Arizona clinic.

Richard Bacon:

Even the world of Blue Peter was rocked by cocaine when presenter
Bacon was spotted taking the drug outside a nightclub. He was sacked
from the programme.

John Alford:

The 27-year-old star of London's Burning was jailed last May for nine
months for supplying cocaine after being caught on camera clinching a
deal with an undercover journalist posing as an Arab royal.
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