David Raynes: Many illegal drugs have become ubiquitous

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The Independent Online

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) was a good concept but implementation has been deeply flawed. This is mainly because the Home Office accepted undemanding performance targets. The agency is riven by personnel, pay and budget issues and obsessed with a few, well-known, mainly UK-based, key criminals – regardless of whether they are currently supplying the UK market.

It is also obsessed with "up-stream disruption". That's good, but it has a marginal effect on the UK market. It frequently refuses follow-up operations to catch the organisers behind Customs "cold find" frontier seizures. These often represent the very best current intelligence and offer an opportunity to disrupt the market, make arrests and lead on to targeted operations against organisers.

Customs has consequently struggled to cobble together investigation effort from local police forces – inadequately resourced, inexperienced, unprepared and ill-equipped – to deal with major traffickers.

Customs border staff are frustrated and demoralised by the lack of useful service from Soca. Good agency intelligence for the fleet of purpose-built vessels (the Cutters) is missing. Customs acquired these at a cost of £5m each to meet the challenge from large-scale drugs smuggling by yachts and other vessels. Smuggling drugs into Britain in 2007 is easier than at any time in 30 years. The relevant Home Office junior minister is allegedly asking tricky questions and right to be "concerned".

The whole drugs strategy has been dysfunctional. There's been a failure to appreciate that the most important thing is culture and the way that the view of drugs has changed in recent years. People have been sent mixed messages. The Blunkett downgrading of cannabis had an extraordinary effect and led to even greater confusion.

We have a situation where legal drugs, particularly alcohol, are causing us problems and we also have a problem with illegal drugs that's worse than most countries in Europe. Many illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, have become ubiquitous.