Concern as drug scene re-emerges after Covid

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Robin Smith said that Jersey’s enforcement agencies would continue to target the assets of drug crime in an effort to protect the Island from any attempts to increase the supply of illegal drugs.

‘The message is very clear,’ Mr Smith said. ‘In the interests of deterrence, we will go for your house, your car, your valuable assets. We don’t stop with seizing drugs and money. We will hunt down your assets if they have been gained by criminal activity.’

Latest figures show that the police – who have recently re-established their specialist drugs squad – have recovered drugs with a street value of £576,767 in the past year, as well as a further £58,000 in cash associated with drugs activity. Jersey Customs have seized drugs with a street value of £530,000 in their operations this year. The majority of drugs (by weight) confiscated by the police is cannabis but other substances seized include heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and MDMA or ecstasy.

Mr Smith expressed particular concern about heroin and increased strength MDMA.

‘Now we are starting to see a return and the heroin market is starting to re-establish itself. The seizures we have seen are a reflection that the drugs market is starting to ramp up again,’ he said, adding that his officers were working closely with Jersey Customs in the fight against drug crime.

Although the so-called ‘punisher’ MDMA – associated in the UK with long-term brain damage and death – has yet to be detected locally, the police believe that it has already reached the Island.

Both the force and Customs are cautious in the way they interpret the latest data on drug seizures because the figures reflect an atypical year in which the effects of the pandemic and associated lockdowns influenced wider trends in criminal activity.

They had a particular impact on drug crime where demand fell because of restrictions on social activity, and lockdown meant that the opportunity to import illicit substances through the Harbour and Airport was curtailed.

Such trends mean that – while Jersey Customs’ drug-seizure figures this year are already 25% up on 2019 – the overwhelming majority relates to the interception of drugs through the post, most involving much smaller quantities than usual. In 2019, there were 106 such postal importations, a number which rose to 290 last year with lockdown. This year, so far, the figure stands at 168. But 37 seizures, mostly involving larger quantities of drugs, were made in 2019 at the Harbour and Airport, compared with 13 last year and only 11 so far in 2021.

Head of Customs Mark Cockerham said that a combination of intelligence and the high street price of drugs tended to indicate that seizures ‘were not massively out of control’ but he said recent activity confirmed the need for the Island’s law enforcement agencies to stay vigilant.

‘From one point of view, it is good to have a high street price but this will equally mean that organised crime groups may see that there is money to be made and will try to target the Island and no border is completely smuggle-proof,’ he said.

He added that the case of four individuals brought back to Jersey through operations conducted this year with UK agencies confirmed the Island’s determination to pursue those involved in importing and supplying drugs and return them for trial.

Sentencing policy in Jersey for those convicted of drug importation was harsher than in the UK, the police chief stressed. Figures show that sentences totalling 139 years have been handed down by the courts in the past 12 months but Mr Smith added that there was a further aspect to drug crime which should not be forgotten.

‘Not only is this about catching criminals who are seeking to make significant financial gain, it is equally about public health and the health of Islanders because these are poisons and often that discussion gets lost,’ Mr Smith said.

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