Record heroin haul as gangs try to flood UK

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Britain is on the verge of a heroin epidemic with seizures of the drug up 80 per cent to a record total last year, it was revealed yesterday.

Investigators believe drug traffickers are trying to flood the United Kingdom with heroin in an attempt to create a bigger more profitable market.

Customs officers and the police also announced yesterday that in 1995 they recovered the biggest ever quantity of drugs in a single year. A record 55.6 tonnes of drugs were seized - about pounds 458m worth - up 9 per cent on 1994.

There has also been a resurgence in the popularity of the dance drug ecstasy. In 1995, the amount seized rose by about 17 per cent to the equivalent of 2 million tablets, worth about pounds 30m at street prices.

But it is the huge increase in seizures of heroin - 1,118 kilograms, or enough for 658 million injections - that is causing the greatest single concern.

Dick Kellaway, Customs & Excise chief investigator, warned: "All the evidence - Customs seizures, police seizures and reports from those close to the users - points to a massive increase in the volume of heroin being targeted on the UK. We believe that the increase is supplier-led in the sense that heroin is being imported in order to create a market. Potentially this is the most serious drug problem that all of us face."

Heroin in now the most common class A drug. Most of it comes from opium grown Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghan-istan and arrives via countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Most of the trafficking gangs in the UK are Turkish, Asian and Afghan. About 20 Turkish gangs are running the bulk of the multi-million pound heroin trade with their main stronghold in north London. The drug is usually sold on to white drug gangs and dealers for distribution in the big cities.

A wrap of heroin costs between pounds 10 and pounds 15, and police believe an increasing number of young people are choosing it as their first choice drug. The trend was highlighted in the current hit film Trainspotting.

Customs say there is no sign of the overall upward trend abating. Police have also warned of a drug-gang culture similar to the United States developing unless action is taken.

Keith Hellawell, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire and Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drugs sub-committee, also highlighted the growing threat to the young. He said the death of 18-year-old ecstasy victim Leah Betts had brought home the extent of the problem.

While seizures of ecstasy rose to 544kg, those for amphetamine dropped from about a quarter to 527kg and for LSD by more than a half to 31,000 doses. The rise in ecstasy is partly blamed on the growth of imported drugs from Holland, Belgium and France.

Surprisingly the amount of cocaine seized is down by more than half on last year to 940kgs - about pounds 110m at street prices. However, Customs and Excise believe the trend is still going up and the drop is a statistical blip resulting from three unusually large seizures in 1994.

Cannabis still makes up the bulk of drugs seized - more than 80 per cent of the total.

For the first time, the figures include drug seizures at the Channel tunnel. In 1995, there were 12 major seizures with a total street value of pounds 8m.