New figures from Scotland Yard show drugs related arrests are continuing to rise but police warn that current statistics only expose the tip of the iceberg.

In an interview with Independent London, Commander John Grieve, director of intelligence at the Metropolitan Police, and head of the year-old Drugs Related Violence Intelligence Unit, revealed arrests for drug offences are up by 15 to 20 per cent for the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

The increasing availability of cocaine, its derivative, crack, and the hallucinogenic amphetamine, Ecstasy, has forced police to admit that they can only keep a lid on the problem.

Commander Grieve said: 'For every dealer, we arrest six users. We are arresting more dealers than ever before on fewer resources. But there are more drugs around than ever before and there are only a limited number of hours in the day.

There are now obvious signs that the drug culture has penetrated the whole of London's social spectrum. In addition to the sleazy street deals which are typical of deprived areas such as King's Cross, drugs such as cocaine are now widely used by the professional classes as an intrinsic part of their recreation at night clubs and dinner parties.

Amphetamine seizures were up by a staggering 300 per cent last year, while cocaine seizures fell by 70 per cent, the statistics distorted by two large seizures in 1992.

Crack seizures were also up by 90 per cent and last year there were at least 10 murders and 20 attempted murders linked directly to the trade in London. In the first three months of 1994 there were three murders and 12 attempted murders connected with crack dealing. Earlier this month Scotland Yard said that several hundred crack dealers had access to guns, including automatic weapons.

Where drugs are concerned, guns are almost always associated with crack dealing, warned detectives, who are concerned about the extreme violence associated with the trade.

Britain is an enticing market for the crack and cocaine dealers because the police have not been routinely armed and jail sentences are more lenient than those in the United States. In America possession of five grams of crack results in a mandatory five-year sentence. It has also been suggested that it is easier to evade British immigration controls.

Coupled with this is the blunt economic reality that in America the market is saturated, the price of drugs are not high enough to justify the risks. The cartels now have bigger fish to fry in Europe.

The statistics, however, are never likely to accurately reflect what is going on in the streets. They only give a partial picture.

Many of the dealers were career criminals who lived in the capital, says Cmdr Grieve. 'On the shorter chains you are only six or seven handshakes from the gutter to the highest levels of the coke cartels in South America.

On the first level of dealing it would be unlikely that drugs would be offered by a stranger, says the officer. First time users or children were more likely to be introduced to drugs by members of the family or close friends, he said. As for the dealers themselves Cmdr Grieve said: 'There are groupings all over London, it is rather like a patchwork quilt. Among the criminals, practically anybody who is anybody has a finger in the pie.

The old-style armed robber gangs have moved into the drugs trade, deterred perhaps by the greater security in banks and shops. The statistics also show a downturn in these crimes.

'It is easy money. There is a high level of return for their investment. They can get other people to carry out the risk. It would be very rare to get somebody to carry out an armed robbery for you.

He warned against blaming all the capital's drugs problems on one particular grouping, such as the highly publicised Yardies, from Jamaica. 'We've blamed Hong Kong, the Chinese, Thailand, the Golden Triangle, the Golden Crescent, Turkey, the Balkan Route and the French Connection before you even start on

America, South America and the Caribbean.

'To attribute the word Yardie to any black gunman who shoots someone is nonsense, especially if he was born in the back streets of London. Some of them, (the dealers) are local boys.

He said the drugs trade followed traditional trading routes and the traditional banking systems, London he noted was the centre of the banking market.

And in spite of legislation, introduced in the 1986 Drug Trafficking Offences Act, criminals with sophisticated laundering techniques were still managing to slip through the banking network.

'Sometimes it is so subtle and sophisticated that it does not even reach their attention.

Advance warning of the spiralling levels of drug crime to hit London were given in the mid-eighties by authorities in the United States.

In 1989, Bob Stutman, the then head of the New York office of the Drugs Enforcement Administration, addressed the Association of Chief Police Officers, warning that the crack epidemic was on its way to the UK.

Scotland Yard then set up a special crack squad based at Albany Street station, but the expected onslaught from America was slow to materialise, and the squad was disbanded.

The Drugs Related Intelligence Unit had taken over the functions of the old crack squad, said Cmdr Grieve, and this had freed the eight officers to work on field intelligence.

Detectives have also changed tack in the way they approach the crime. Previously, they had tended to concentrate on the drug itself rather than the related violence, which had played a part in allowing the epidemic to grow.

'Now we will arrest someone with only two or three rocks of crack. We are concentrating on the violence, rather than just the drug.

LOW TASTES BECOME HIGH FASHION

Attend enough dinner parties in the capital and sooner or later somebody will serve up a line of cocaine, 'Charlie or 'Champagne, as it is known among the streetwise. Head out for any one of the mushrooming new nightclub-salon venues, where male bouncers have taken to patrolling the ladies toilets in a bid to stamp out the coke sniffers, and the scenario is likely to be the same.

London clubland is awash with the stuff, evident to anyone forced to wait for 15 minutes or so for a single toilet cubicle occupied by three people, all having a surreptitious snort. Ladies toilets are used even by men because of the greater number of cubicles available.

Cocaine has taken over from the humble 'spliff, or cannabis joint, the latter once almost a rite of passage for liberal young graduates, who would largely baulk at the idea of abusing anything stronger than this and copious quantities of alcohol.

It is also taking over from booze as the tool of the unscrupulous rake, who will entice his prey with the offer of a free line or two back at his designer pad. The health risks do not appear to matter. Cocaine is a nervous system stimulant and can induce symptoms of paranoid psychosis. Constant users risk eroding the nasal septum and cause teeth to fall out.

One user, David, a successful 33-year-old self-employed Chelsea businessman, said: 'The reason why people are preferring to take coke rather than, say, joints is that if you want to, you can stay up all night and party. Dope (cannabis) just makes you lazy and sleepy. But with cocaine you can actually get up the next day and go to work. I always felt fine doing this.

'Drink is just not as social on the scene nowadays. People who drink just go to the pub and then go home. If people take coke it bonds them together. They stick around and have a line, he said.

At street-level cocaine sells for around pounds 60 a gram, which could last for a weekend or a couple of hours, depending on the user. Those who take cocaine regularly tended to make 'bigger lines, said David.

'I only buy my cocaine from friends. There is so much rubbish out there - obviously because the trade is not regulated - people are free to sell you what they like. If you buy from a stranger, you don't know if they have cut the drug with anything else. They will mix talc or bicarbonate of soda with it to make their profits bigger.

'Cocaine is like a power drug. People think they are amazing when they take it. They think they are more flash, more cool, more articulate and then they start making lousy judgements.

(Photograph omitted)

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