Drug hunt at City exchange

Steve Boggan reports on growing concern about the use of cocaine
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The Independent Online
Police and sniffer dogs searched for drugs at one of the City of London's most important financial institutions after a futures dealer was found carrying cannabis.

The London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange (Liffe) asked the police to conduct the search in what is seen as the clearest indication yet of concern about drug abuse in the City.

The unnamed freelance dealer was stopped by Liffe's own security guards on Monday and found to be carrying a small amount of cannabis. Despite the negligible quantity and the relatively innocent nature of the find - cannabis is a Class B drug, possession of which for one's own consumption goes unpunished by most police forces - the exchange's management decided to act in an unprecedented manner.

Its chief executive, Daniel Hodson ordered the request for police involvement on the same day. Within hours, the trading floor and lockers used by the hundreds of traders who work at Liffe were put under close scrutiny by City of London police officers using dogs trained to sniff out drugs.

They found nothing, but brokers said last night that was because they waited until dealing had stopped and the building was empty.

"It would have been a different story if they'd have come in earlier," said one. "I wouldn't have betted against them finding some people with cocaine."

It is believed by some within Liffe, based in Cannon Street, that the discovery of the cannabis was used as an excuse to launch a search for more serious drugs, primarily cocaine.

There has been growing concern that one side-effect of the affluent Eighties has been a residual drug abuse. Most large banks now have provisions in place to help employees with drug and alcohol problems.

Cocaine has become the favoured drug for two reasons. At between pounds 40 and pounds 60 a gramme, the user has to be relatively affluent to buy it, and the speedy feeling of well-being and self-confidence it fosters fits in with the high-powered City lifestyle image.

Paul McDonald, a psychologist at the Charter Nightingale hospital in north London, said the problem has increased. "We are seeing more numbers than we used to and we have treated people from many of the big firms in the City.

"There is a lot of money around and spending it on cocaine is in keeping with the kudos of the lifestyle. Cocaine is a very fashionable drug and it says you are earning good money. It is the champagne of drugs and it says you are a high earner and a high-flyer.

"It is not uncommon at all for us to treat people from the City who are in dire straits financially, emotionally and professionally. Some start to take cocaine recreationally and leave it at that. But for others, regular use changes the meaning of the drug and it becomes problematical."

Treatment - usually paid for by the employee but sometimes covered by medical insurance - costs pounds 2,800 a week and can go on for three or four weeks.

"It does go on," said one Liffe trader yesterday. "Everyone is worried about stress levels and drug abuse.

"It is always prevalent among rich young people.

"Most of the people on the Liffe trading floor are not exactly your high intellectuals. They are not doing a very complicated job although it is is very stressful, but they make a hell of a lot of money. Let's be honest, some spend it on tarts and booze and drugs."

A Liffe spokeswoman said there was no evidence of a major drugs problem. "The exchange was simply acting as a responsible organisation," she said.

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