Police seize 20m pounds of heroin on M1: Record haul found hidden in tomato lorry

AN ARMED operation by Customs and police officers has netted the biggest single seizure of heroin in Britain - nearly a quarter of a ton with a street value of about pounds 20m - hidden in a lorry carrying tomatoes.

The 200kg seizure was made early on Friday at Scratchwood service station on the M1 in north London, ending a long surveillence operation. Customs officers said last night that a Turkish lorry driver, aged 33, would appear in court in east London this morning charged with importing heroin.

The quantity is almost half the total amount of heroin seized by Customs officers during the past year - 449kg.

According to Customs sources, officers had received a tip-off that the lorry was on its way. When it arrived at Dover last Saturday, it was placed under surveillance.

It was monitored as it was driven north, eventually arriving in Liverpool where the driver unloaded the tomatoes at a legitimate company but no attempt was made to unload the heroin. Customs officers believe it was destined for Merseyside but suspect their surveillance was spotted by the traffickers who held back from making a pick-up.

Surveillance continued as the lorry headed south down the M1. At Scratchwood services, where the lorry stopped, Customs officers, backed by armed Regional Crime Squad officers, moved in, arrested the driver and seized the heroin.

The heroin is believed to have originated from the Golden Crescent area on the borders of Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. Police and Customs officers are concerned that heroin remains as potent a threat as cocaine and will be particularly relieved to make such a large seizure. During the first half of 1993, Customs seizures fell from 225kg to 135kg. But police seizures rose from 18kg to 60kg, suggesting that more may have been reaching the streets.