Hard-line anti-drugs plans to hit dealers

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Suspected drug barons face having almost all of their property seized by police – down to the rings on their fingers – before they are charged with any offence, under a dramatic anti-drugs strategy to be unveiled by ministers this week.

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will target drug dealers with new powers designed to attack the profitability of their illicit trade. The move is certain to face criticism from civil rights advocates.

The 10-year Drug Strategy will give police and other enforcement agencies the right to seize dealers' assets once they have been arrested in connection with inquiries. A Home Office spokesman last night explained that the hard-line proposals would "send a blunt warning to criminals that we will not allow them to benefit from their crimes", as part of a campaign to double the value of seized assets to £250m a year by 2009-2010.

Currently police have the powers to seize cash, but they must obtain judicial restraining orders designed to prevent criminals disposing of their assets after their arrest.

The changes, modelled on existing powers to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists, include plans for a judge to rule on whether there are "reasonable grounds" to seize possessions pending a conviction. The Home Office plans to hold seized goods until suspects are convicted, and then sell them off.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, queried the move. "The first question is what happens if no conviction is obtained? Will the taxpayer have to fund a massive lawsuit?