Pubdate: Sun, 06 Jan 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson


Tony Thompson In Kingston Investigates How Police Are Failing To Halt A 
Growing Trade Fuelled By Poverty

The air conditioning in the dilapidated courthouse has not worked for years 
but protocol still dictates that those addressing the magistrate must wear 
jackets and ties. In the stifling heat of court number five in Kingston's 
Half Way Tree district, Detective Constable Conrad Granston repeatedly 
mopped his brow last week as he explained why he had immediate suspicions 
about Diane Haddow.

After opening her suitcase, he found 33 plastic bottles of medicated 
powder. 'I thought to myself this can't be right, nobody should need that 
much. She told me her daughter suffered from a severe skin complaint and 
that she had bought it to treat her, but it still didn't make sense.'

Granston cut one bottle open and found three pellets, each wrapped in black 
plastic. The pellets contained cocaine and almost all the other bottles had 
similar contents.

Haddow, a 22-year-old from Tottenham in north London, was arrested at 
Norman Manley Airport in Kingston on Wednesday night as she prepared to 
board an Air Jamaica flight to London. Her suitcase contained around a kilo 
of high quality cocaine.

Haddow is the latest British citizen to be arrested for suspected drug 
trafficking in Jamaica, but her alleged crime was far from unusual. At 
least seven other cases in the court last Friday morning involved couriers 
arrested en route to London since the beginning of the year. They included 
a woman who had swallowed 99 pellets of cocaine and a man who attempted to 
smuggle cannabis in a false compartment in his suitcase.

While the majority of those caught are Jamaican, the number of Britons 
involved is growing fast. Last March, 48 British citizens were being held 
in Jamaican jails. Today that figure has climbed to 150.

Last week the UK's Deputy High Commissioner in Jamaica, Phil Sinkinson, 
ignited a political row by claiming that as many as one in 10 passengers on 
flights from Jamaica to Britain was attempting to smuggle drugs. However, 
according to police officers on the trail of the mules, such estimates are 
conservative and the true figure on certain flights could be as high as 80 
per cent.

The first thing visitors to the headquarters of the Narcotics Division of 
the Jamaican Constabulary notice is the lack of computers. Essential 
information such as fingerprint files and criminal records are still 
written by hand on index cards.

 From his sparsely furnished office Superintendent Gladstone Wright is the 
first to admit that he and his officers need help to tackle the 
increasingly sophisticated drug smuggling centre that Jamaica has become.

The smugglers are becoming more dynamic and the trade is growing all the 
time,' he said. 'In terms of what is happening in Britain, the trade has 
escalated sharply since 11 September. The couriers who would normally be 
travelling to America are unable to get their drugs through because 
security at the borders has become so tight. Cocaine is stockpiling in 
Jamaica and that is no good for the dealers - there is no viable market for 
the drug here. So it is all being diverted to Britain.'

In December, 23 drug mules were caught on a single Air Jamaica flight into 
Heathrow. A week later a further 19 were caught on a BA flight into 
Gatwick. Both aircraft were targeted for checks at random.

Before 11 September, 50 per cent of all drugs intercepted from airline 
passengers arriving in the United States were seized from flights from 
Jamaica, despite such flights making up less than 3 per cent of US air 
traffic. Wright believes that much of this activity is now being directed 
towards Britain and that as much as 65 per cent of all the cocaine in the 
UK was smuggled through Jamaica.

'Becoming a drug mule is the most readily available form of employment in 
this country at the moment,' he said. 'It is a job that you do not need to 
be interviewed for or have any kind of qualifications, but you can earn 
more money than most Jamaicans see in a lifetime. The economy here is very 
bad at the moment and unemployment among women is running at 22 per cent. 
These people are easy prey for the dealers.'

Those who swallow pellets of cocaine receive the most publicity but the 
smugglers are also using a wide variety of other techniques, some of them 
highly sophisticated.

In recent weeks cocaine has been found sewn into the seams of trousers, 
suspended in liquids, concealed in the soles of shoes and hidden in the 
handles of suitcases. On New Year's Day a woman was arrested at Norman 
Manley Airport with half a kilo of cocaine weaved into her hair.

The 'body packers' prepare themselves for their smuggling trips by 
swallowing whole grapes. The money they are paid is directly related to the 
number of pellets they are able to swallow. The average mule will carry 
around 30 but there have been cases where people have swallowed more than 120.

The pellets - each two inches long and half an inch wide - are often dipped 
in honey to ease their passage down the gullet. The mules will take tablets 
to induce constipation during the course of the trip. In earlier years the 
cocaine was stored in condoms but the fingers of surgical gloves, which are 
made of latex and are more sturdy, are the current material of choice. The 
cocaine is compressed and formed into pellets using a machine which 
supposedly ensures an airtight seal.

Despite this, dozens of couriers have had to be rushed to hospital after 
becoming ill while waiting to board planes at Kingston. At least 10 have 
died as a result of packages bursting inside them in the past year.

Police and customs officials in Britain and Jamaica admit that a 
significant proportion of mules do get through. Once they have cleared 
customs in Britain they travel to pre-arranged addresses where they are 
given laxatives to help them expel the packages.

But, according to Wright, his officers do not even attempt to catch all the 
drug smugglers before they board flights to the UK. 'It is relatively easy 
to spot the novices. The people with cocaine strapped to their bodies look 
bulky or have an unusual gait, while those who have swallowed for the first 
time are often visibly nervous and panic-stricken. The problem is that we 
simply do not have the resources to deal with swallowers.

'When we identify them they have to be taken to hospital and placed under 
guard until the cocaine passes through their system. That can take up to 
six days and we do not have the manpower to cope with that. We would never 
knowingly let someone board a plane who we suspected of having swallowed 
cocaine, but I am certain that we could catch many more people if we had 
more resources to devote.'

The entire Jamaican Narcotics Division is staffed by just 130 officers. By 
comparison 150 detectives investigated the murder of Jill Dando. Wright 
plans to expand the division to a staff of more than 200 but while having 
more officers will undoubtedly help, Wright acknowledges that the police 
themselves are a part of the problem.

Corrupt officers have been known to transport drugs in their own vehicles, 
to block off roads to allow planes to take off and land and to turn a blind 
eye to shipments being smuggled out of the country in return for bribes.

In January 1999, 127 officers in the Portland Division were transferred 
after allegations that some had formed an alliance with members of a 
Colombian cocaine cartel. Eight months later the entire Special Anti-Crime 
Taskforce was disbanded after some of its officers were found to be selling 

More recently police officers have been caught selling gun licences to drug 
dealers and helping smugglers to get hold of false passports for their 

For the honest, dedicated officers the tainted reputation only serves to 
make their job even harder. An officer for 18 years, Sergeant Adele 
Halliman has spent the last six years specialising in narcotics and is now 
Jamaica's top mule buster. Like Gene Hackman's character in The French 
Connection, she believes she has a sixth sense that alerts her whenever a 
courier is around.

'I guess I have a gift. It's hard for me to explain exactly how it works 
but I just get a sense when someone is carrying contraband, and I am never 
wrong.' Last week Halliman arrested yet another British citizen, Michael 
Edwards, as he boarded a flight to London after a 10-day holiday in 
Jamaica. His luggage included a bottle of Sorrell, a local drink made from 
flower petals, which aroused her suspicions. 'There was something about the 
colour that wasn't right so I checked more closely. It turned out to be 
liquid cocaine.'

Halliman spends much of her time in the departure lounge of Norman Manley 
Airport at the x-ray machines that scan every item of a passenger's luggage 
even before they reach the check-in desk. In the past six months she and 
her team, which includes DC Granston and two other detectives, have 
arrested more than 150 mules.

She has little doubt that many more manage to slip through the net and 
believes that on certain flights, at certain times of the year the number 
of passengers attempting to smuggle contraband is as high as eight in 10.

'It's a lottery, some people will bring through five pieces of luggage 
hoping we won't have time to search them all. Others have just one piece 
because they believe they will look more innocent, we have even had people 
using their children in an attempt to distract us.'

The frustration Halliman feels at not having the resources to do a more 
effective job pales alongside that which comes from seeing how the Jamaican 
judicial system deals with those who are caught. Sentences are remarkably 
light, especially compared with Britain where even a first-time mule can 
expect to serve a minimum of six years.

As Halliman waited out side court to supervise Diane Haddow's transfer to a 
holding centre, she was informed that another British drugs mule, Lisa 
Walker, was to be released from prison later that day. Halliman remembered 
her well: she arrested Walker attempting to smuggle two kilograms of 
cocaine out of the country just nine months ago.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart