Cocaine seizures up by 224 per cent

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The Independent Online
The amount of cocaine seized by Customs officers rose by 224 per cent last year and record quantities of heroin and synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy and amphetamines, were recovered.

More than 51 tons of drugs, with a street value of about £550m, were seized in 1994, it was announced yesterday.

It also emerged that chief constables are seeking clarification from Stella Rimington, head of MI5, about whether the security service intends to become involved in the fight against drugs.

Although MI5 has publicly denied that it is seeking to expand into this area, Keith Hellawell, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drug committee, said yesterday that he had detected a possible "change of heart". Many chief officers fear MI5 will attempt to take over the police's intelligence gathering role.

Customs staff, who face cuts of about 300 drugs officers in the next five years, argued yesterday that vast amounts of narcotics were still flooding into Britain.

The scale of the problem was revealed in the annual Customs and Excise seizure figures. They showed that more than 2.2 tons of cocaine - enough for about 32 million doses with a street value of about £200m - was recovered. The vast quantity, the second highest total ever recovered, is being supplied by South American drug barons.

The largest single seizure was at Birkenhead on Merseyside, where 1.2 tons of cocaine was found in barrels of bitumen. The drug came from Venezuela and was destined for Poland.

Record amounts of the dance drug ecstasy were seized - enough to make 2.3 million tablets, an 88 per cent increase on 1993. There were also record quantities of other synthetic drugs, such as LSD. Three quarters came from the Netherlands. In one case, a Dutch family stopped at Dover were found to have 150,000 tablets of ecstasy hidden in their car.

The amount of heroin rose from 618kg to a record 620kg, with a street value of £57m - enough to provide 280 million injections. The "Golden Crescent" of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran continues to be the UK's main source of the drug.

Cannabis seizures fell by 9 per cent from last year's record total of 51 tons to about 47 tons.

Customs officers say they have helped to break up 214 drug gangs, preventing the smuggling of £900m of narcotics. The number of seizures made was down by about 200 from 1993. There has also been a drop in arrests to 2,451.

Despite the seizures, customs officers yesterday criticised the Government for being complacent. Mike King, of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants and the Civil and Public Services Association, said: "All the evidence leads drug experts to conclude that despite this success, drugs are still flooding into the UK in unprecedented quantities."