Rising drug problem linked to violence: Rave parties increase demand as shipments worth pounds 519m are seized

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The Independent Online
ILLEGAL drugs worth more than pounds 519m at street prices, including for the first time more than a ton of synthetics like ecstasy and amphetamines, were seized by Customs and Excise officers during 1993, figures released yesterday show.

Senior police and customs officers conceded that the 1993 figures showed Britain's drugs problem was growing and becoming increasingly associated with violence. Street prices are also low.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Dickens, co-ordinator of the police regional crime squads, said drugs were now increasingly available. He said rave parties in particular created a demand for drugs among young people.

Douglas Tweddle, the Chief Investigation Officer for Customs, said: 'The drugs problem in Britain is worse than it has been in the past. The violence which is linked with drug trafficking undoubtedly has been increasing. There has been a growing number of murders in inner city-areas linked with drug smuggling.'

Mr Tweddle said the increase in synthetics, particularly ecstasy, was 'very worrying'. Most ecstasy seized arrived in Britain from mainland Europe; 90 per cent of it was manufactured in the Netherlands. Despite liberal Dutch attitudes to drugs, he said co- operation between customs and their Dutch counterparts was 'second to none.' The Netherlands is also an important source of cocaine.

Seizures of synthetics increased 215 per cent in 1993. This included 554kg of ecstasy, worth pounds 58m and 543kg of amphetamine worth pounds 75m. LSD seizures fell 5 per cent to 143,827 units valued at pounds 575,000.

Overall drug seizures for 1993 were down on the pounds 549m taken in 1992. That included two huge hauls of South American cocaine of 900kg and 800kg respectively. Last year, 748kg of cocaine were seized, worth a total of pounds 110m at street prices but the actual number of seizures rose by 14 per cent. Colombia remained the main source while the Caribbean and West African countries were increasingly popular as transit routes.

The amount of heroin seized in 1993 rose by 25 per cent on the previous year. Mr Tweddle said the 562kg seized amounted to 300 million injections - five for every person in the United Kingdom.

The overland Balkan route from the heroin-producing areas on the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders remained popular. Last year's seizures included the biggest single haul of heroin, about pounds 20m of the drug discovered in a lorry on the M1.

Cannabis seizures in 1993 rose by 19 per cent to a record 53 tons with a street value of pounds 176m; four-fifths was cannabis resin. There were more than 7,000 separate cannabis seizures. Opium remains a minority drug: only 5kgs were seized, worth pounds 51,000.

The number of people arrested during 1993 rose by 29 per cent to 3,302 and 69 different trafficking organisations were dismantled - a rise of 22 per cent on the previous year. A total of pounds 7.8m in profits from drugs trafficking was confiscated under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act.

Mr Tweddle said that although last year was the first full year of open borders under the Single European Market, it did not produce the flood of drugs which senior police and customs officers had predicted. He said this was due to the policy of reallocating resources towards intelligence work designed to tackle trafficking at source. About 40 per cent of drugs seized came from other EU countries.

Recent initiatives included involvement in the planned European-wide drugs intelligence service and the permanent stationing of a customs officer at Interpol headquarters in Lyon.

British Customs is also a member of the International Customs Co-operation Council which is playing an increasing role in reducing trafficking. Intelligence and information supplied by Britain had led to the seizure of more than two tons of cocaine and more than 130 arrests in other countries, Mr Tweddle said.

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