Drug gangs cashing in on `recreational' heroin

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International drugs gangs are deliberately targeting Britain in a drive to boost heroin sales, Customs investigators warned yesterday. They said sales were rising because of a trend towards "recreational" use of the drug by non-addicts who smoke it, rather than inject it.

While heroin seizures were down from last year's record high, the underlying trend was still upwards, said the first annual report by the Customs and Excise National Investigation Service (NIS).

The heroin market in Britain is currently dominated by Turkish criminal gangs together with "increasingly professional and organised groups" of West African nationals. "There is evidence that the UK is being aggressively targeted by such gangs to create an increased market and to satisfy a trend towards the recreational use of heroin," the report said. Traffickers increasingly appeared to be stockpiling the drug in order to manipulate street prices, it added.

Overall the NIS, which was formed last year from the merger of the Customs Investigations Division and Collection Investigation Units, prevented illegal drugs worth pounds 1.5bn at street prices arriving in Britain. It also "dismantled or significantly disrupted" a total of 103 "major criminal organisations" in Britain as a result of a policy of targeting gangs rather than individual traffickers. Co-operation with overseas anti-drugs agencies led to the seizure of a further pounds 1.6bn worth of drugs abroad and more than 250 arrests.

The report said that seizures by the NIS of other drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines were continuing to rise while cannabis seizures reached record levels - more than 47 tonnes.