POLICE have missed Class A drug seizure targets despite arresting more crime lords and going global in their efforts to stop cocaine reaching Scotland.
New Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency figures show 105 kilograms of heroin and cocaine, worth £21 million, were seized in 2009-10.
However, this was just a tenth of the amount confiscated in the previous year, and a third of the agency's annual target.
Despite this, the agency's director general, Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Meldrum, believes there is reason for optimism and has called 2009-10 a watershed year.
The SCDEA also seized 1.6 tonnes of Class B drugs, mainly cannabis, worth £5m, and identified £22m worth of property and cash for confiscation by the Crown Office, more than double their official target of £8.5m.
Half of the drugs seized was cocaine from Columbia and the Dominican Republic – in what police call "upstream operations" – which would have been shipped or flown directly to Scotland.
This cocaine is typically at least 80 per cent pure, compared with less than 10 per cent on the streets of Scotland, which means when it arrives it gets cut with other substances and can increase in quantity by eight times or more.
Police also believe that the huge haul of 1,011 kilograms of Class A drugs seized in 2008-09 has made crime gangs more cautious and less likely to try and smuggle large shipments into Scotland.
Mr Meldrum said: There's a bit of me that genuinely thinks the ton we took last year frightened them. They've changed tactics and no longer want to deal in large consignments.
It hurt their reputations. These people survive on their ability to provide a commodity.
Police are determined to go after the heads of gangs and, since identifying 367 organised crime groups last year, have ranked members according to the harm they are capable of inflicting on the population.
Of the 136 people arrested in 2009-10, 67 were level three criminals – high level crooks, capable of orchestrating international drug deals – up 34 per cent on the previous year.
Those involved in serious organised crime are brutal, callous people, Mr Meldrum said.
Stopping them is what gets all of us at the SCDEA up in the morning.
Police are also going after the "facilitators" – professional experts who provide legal, financial and counter-intelligence advice to the crime gangs.
Their biggest success in this has been the conviction of an expert in sweeping premises for covert surveillance devices. Ian Sweeney, 38, of West Street, Glasgow admitted trafficking cocaine between May 2008 and July 2008 and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, said: This report provides more evidence of the significant progress that is being made in tackling serious crime in Scotland.
It is clear that the work done by the SCDEA is helping take gangsters off our streets, disrupting criminal networks and bringing respite to decent and hardworking people.
John Lamont MSP, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, added:
It is right for those who have been convicted, who live in large houses and who have sizeable assets should have to prove that these were not funded by illegal means – or face their forfeiture.
Richard Baker MSP, Scottish Labour justice spokesman, said: I welcome the increased number of arrests made by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, but there can be no room for complacency in tackling the drugs trade.
IN IT FOR THE BIG HAUL
• 105 kilograms of Class A drugs, worth £21 million, were seized by the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency in 2009-10.
• It prevented 462,000 street deals taking place in Scotland.
• That compares with 77 kilograms in 2006-7, 220 in 2007-8 and 1,011 in 2008-9.
• The 51kg seized in South America was so pure it could have been cut up to make 408kg in Scotland.
• South American cocaine is typically 80 per cent pure. Cocaine sold in Scotland is often just 10 per cent, and can even be as little as 3 per cent.
• Police also seized 1.5 tonnes of Class B drugs last year, mostly cannabis.
• £22m worth of criminal assets were referred to the Crown to be confiscated via the Proceeds of Crime Act, 158 per cent higher than the SCDEA's target of £8.5m.
• 136 people were arrested, half of whom were the highest-level criminals.
• 29 criminals previously arrested by the SCDEA were sentenced to a combined 160 years in prison.
24 June 2010
By Gareth Rose