Pubdate: Sun, 30 Dec 2001
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 The Observer
Contact:  http://www.observer.co.uk/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/315
Author: Tony Thompson

RECORD RISE IN HARD DRUGS SMUGGLED INTO UK

Record quantities of hard drugs are being smuggled into Britain as dealers 
attempt to cater for the party season when at least four million people are 
expected to take an illegal substance.

Although Christmas and New Year traditionally generate a rise in smuggling, 
the scale of the increase during the past three months has alarmed Customs 
officials.

'The traffickers appear to be getting bolder and operating on a grander 
scale,' said a source. 'What we are seeing is an increase both in the 
number of attempts and the size of shipments we are seizing.'

Unofficial estimates suggest the amount of cocaine being brought into the 
country has increased by as much as 25 per cent in the last quarter of the 
year.

Many Customs officers believe this could be linked to the terrorist attacks 
of 11 September with dealers attempting to take advantage of the fact that 
officials are being diverted to look for terrorists rather than drug 
couriers. They say dealers are targeting Britain - now the fastest growing 
cocaine market in Europe - because prices here are twice those in the US. 
There have also been significant seizures of ecstasy and amphetamines.

Earlier this month 25 drug mules who had swallowed packages of cocaine were 
arrested after stepping off a flight from Jamaica at Heathrow. It was the 
largest number of couriers ever intercepted on a single flight.

A week later a further 16 were arrested at Gatwick, again following a 
flight from Jamaica. Further parcels con taining cocaine were found on the 
aircraft. In all, drugs worth 250,000 were seized.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident, which targets 
black-on-black crime, had received word that dealers were attempting to 
corner the cocaine market in time for Christmas.

A Customs spokesman said: 'We have not seen anything like this. Jamaica has 
been one of the key sources for smugglers bringing drugs into Britain, but 
the numbers we are seeing on flights represent a serious development.'

Alarm bells first began to sound in October when there were three major 
seizures: 100m of cocaine was captured after being thrown from a plane at 
Southend Airport in Essex, 12m worth of the drug was found on a lorry in 
Hertfordshire and 5m worth of heroin was recovered during a house raid in 
Greenwich, south east London.

Several police forces have launched drugs crackdowns in recent weeks. Last 
week more than 200 officers from Surrey police, including specialist 
firearms units and dog handlers, carried out a series of co-ordinated raids 
on suspected major drug dealers across two counties as part of Operation 
Unify. Some 18 people were arrested and detectives also recovered firearms 
and a large quantity of class A drugs.

During the same week, police in Thames Valley raided a house in a village 
in Berkshire and recovered 5m worth of amphetamines and 250,000 worth of 
cannabis. Raids on crack houses in Hackney have resulted in 53 arrests 
including former British welterweight champion Kirkland Lang.

The Government has launched a 1.5m advertising campaign aimed at 
preventing children from taking drugs. Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth 
said: 'We have launched this initiative in an attempt to reach the 220,000 
16-19 year olds who have told us they use Class A drugs at least once a year.'

Ministers are particularly concerned about a new variant of ecstasy 
nicknamed Death after being linked to several deaths in Australia.

The concern over hard drugs comes amid a relaxation of police attitudes 
towards soft drugs. Last week Scotland Yard announced that a pilot scheme 
in Lambeth, south London, which saw those caught with cannabis warned 
rather than prosecuted is to be extended.

Two reports suggest the scheme, intended to allow police to focus on harder 
drugs, has been a success. A similar scheme could be in place across the 
whole of London by the end of next year, smoothing the path for the Home 
Secretary, David Blunkett, to press ahead with plans to reclassify cannabis 
from Class B to Class C.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart