As lockdowns and border closures have had an impact on the illegal drugs trade, criminal gangs sought to find new methods of bringing illicit substances to the island. This in turn, the Chief Constable says, led to more individual seizures of drugs than ever before.
In the second of our series looking at the Chief Constable’s report, Gef looks at how the island’s police combat drug offences and organised crime.
Drugs and Violence
Inevitably with the border closures the usual supply route for drugs onto the island, mostly from Merseyside using specially equipped vehicles, essentially ran dry. As a result, those involved in the supply of drugs had to find new methods of bringing them to the island. At first this largely consisted of sending them through the postal system, but as time went on other courier services were used, as were fishing boats. Similarly, exporting the cash needed to facilitate the supply of drugs also became more problematic.
Mr Roberts said: ‘The Constabulary made more individual seizures of controlled drugs than ever before, much from within the postal system. Substantial sums of money were also seized. Analysis of the size of the local drugs market supports assertions that I have previously made about the local drugs trade being worth several millions of pounds a year. The total amount of drugs seized during the year was broadly consistent with seizures in the last two years, but the manner in which drugs were recovered, largely via the postal system, was different than before. The seizure of packages at the Post Office, as a response to changing methods of drug importation, has had a direct impact on recorded crime. We made more frequent seizures of smaller amounts, which in turn led to more recorded crimes.
‘The continuing success of the Constabulary in terms of making so many drug seizures no doubt exacerbated problems of violence that I described in my last annual report. Violent crime rose again and several serious assaults were committed that were without doubt linked to debt in the illegal drugs trade. In 45% of serious assaults the victim(s) refused to cooperate with the police.’
The Chief Constable’s report also highlights the link between cocaine use and violence in the night-time economy. He said that ‘considerable attention’ will be paid to this over the next year with the constabulary focussing on reducing violence. In part, the problem with suppliers is that when the police do disrupt a supply network, this often leads to one or more people being targeted and being a victim of violence.
Mr Roberts added: ‘What has saddened me during the year is the number of young people who have been involved in the drugs trade.
‘We have dealt with young people, who have become involved in supplying drugs, simply because they see it as a rapid way of making money; but we have also increasingly encountered young people, who are being exploited by criminals from here and from Merseyside. They are encouraged, cajoled or threatened to help distribute drugs and, when they do, they become involved in sleazy criminality. A lot of work is underway with various partner agencies to try to stop young people from becoming involved in these activities.
‘One of my specialist neighbourhood officers makes an often overlooked point when he talks to children about drugs: there are no gateway drugs. Using cannabis does not inevitably mean that someone will go on to use cocaine or heroin, but the gateway into that world is via organised crime and the criminals who deal cannabis are often also those whose networks traffic class A drugs.’
Mr Roberts also provided a link to Hansard from when Tanya August-Hanson MLC read a statement from a mother whose life had been turned upside down by her son’s involvement in drugs and drugs debts and the difficulties she went through to rectify things. You can see the two pages of that Hansard record below:
Young people and drug supply
Mr Roberts also highlights the rise in drug crime amongst young people. He said: ‘In 2011 one young person was recorded as having been dealt with for the supply of cannabis. In the 2020-21 year 28 young people were dealt with for supply offences. The Constabulary specifically targeted the dealing of drugs by young people in an attempt to begin to break the networks that off island criminals were seeking to establish.’
However, while there was many negatives and sad examples of some of the damage illegal drugs can do to people’s lives, the report also highlights the successful work undertaken by the police. These included Operation Jetstream: This operation targeted Merseyside-based criminals, who were using young and vulnerable people to receive consignments of drugs. The criminals initially befriended these people before coercing them through threats and violence. With the assistance of Merseyside Police and the North West Regional and Organised Crime Unit arrests were made here and in the United Kingdom. Over 40 kilos of cocaine was seized as a result of the operation, several arrests were made and future activity will bring about further arrests and prosecutions.
Operation Squash: This was another operation involving the Constabulary and its partners in the Merseyside region. It targeted the supply of controlled drugs and the accompanying money laundering. Seven people were convicted by Manx courts, over £1m worth of controlled drugs were seized and over £120,000 in cash was recovered and confiscated. The criminals at the head of the organised network then successfully corrupted a prison officer employed in the Isle of Man prison, who smuggled a mobile phone into the prison for them to use to continue to run their network.
A major cash seizure in France of £40,000 in Manx money which was being moved by Midlands-based criminals and a Bitcoin theft of over $22m which accessed bitcoin wallets and moved and split the contents. There were thousands of victims and the Manx Constabulary worked with partners form the UK and Europe to retrieve the stolen bitcoins and locate the offenders. Six individuals are facing charges.