Drugs worth pounds 546m seized as cocaine threat grows

ILLEGAL DRUGS worth more than pounds 500m at street prices, including more than 2 tons of South American cocaine, were seized by Customs and Excise officers during 1992, according to figures released yesterday.

Cocaine seizures remained at the consistently high level of recent years with 2,250kg (4,961lb) confiscated, valued at pounds 328.5m - a rise of 112 per cent over 1992. The figures were swelled by two seizures: 900 and 800kgs, both from Colombia.

Customs officers still believe that heroin remains a greater threat because of its addictiveness. The amount confiscated rose by 10 per cent, from 409kg in 1991 to 449kg, valued at pounds 47.6m.

Cannabis is still the most widely available and widely consumed drug. Seizures rose by 63 per cent, from 27.2 tons in 1991 to 44.5 tons, worth pounds 134m. Last year Customs made its biggest cannabis seizure - 18 tons aboard a North Sea oil- rig support vessel.

Customs officers broke up 47 drug smuggling gangs during the year, arresting a total of 2,568 offenders. There were more than 100 operations conducted jointly with police. The value of the drugs seized during 1992 totalled pounds 545.7m - pounds 271m more than the previous year. Information from British Customs also led to the arrest of 50 people in other countries and the seizure of 1.8 tons of cocaine and 29 tons of cannabis.

Seizures of synthetic drugs fell by 26 per cent from 473kg to 348kg, with a value of pounds 34.8m. Ecstasy seizures remain high. The amount of LSD rose by 74 per cent to 151,966 tabs, with a street value of pounds 623,060, compared to pounds 87,703 in 1991.

Although the large increases in confiscations continue the upward trend, Customs and police have no idea of how much escapes detection, beyond a rough estimate that only 10 per cent is seized. Street prices have remained the same in recent years, although the purity of cocaine has dropped from 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

Announcing the figures, Sir John Cope, Paymaster General and minister responsible for Customs and Excise, said the cocaine seizures showed that the threat from South America of huge importations was becoming a reality. 'The dramatic increases in the seizures of cocaine show first that western Europe has been targeted by the drugs cartels and second that we will not let them succeed.'

The figures were the last before the opening of EC borders but officials yesterday rejected suggestions that the ending of routine frontier checks would lead to a glut of drugs. Casual frontier checks often only resulted in small seizures while larger consignments were almost always the result of intelligence gathering.

Customs says resources have been diverted into greater intelligence gathering and offender profiling; a computer link with other European countries was established last October.

A regular national survey of illicit drugs use should be carried out by the Government to create cost-effective anti-drugs policies, according to a report issued yesterday. The Centre for Health Economics at York University says it is impossible to formulate policy in the absence of basic information on drugs use.

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