A Tory researcher has been arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling after police found the party drug GBL in parcels sent to the head office of one of Yorkshire’s largest councils.
Martin Thomas, 38, was detained by detectives investigating suspicious packages delivered to North Yorkshire Council’s County Hall headquarters in Northallerton.
He is employed by the council as a research and communications officer for the Conservative group, which controls the authority with a 22-seat majority.
The council last night confirmed it had suspended Mr Thomas, who worked from an office in County Hall.
Officers from the UK Border Agency arrested the researcher at his home in Northallerton after receiving a tip-off that drugs were being smuggled into Yorkshire from abroad.
The Yorkshire Post understands they are investigating a number of parcels which were delivered to his home, as well as those sent to County Hall.
Said to have euphoric and sedative effects, GBL, or gamma-butyrolactone, became an increasingly popular drug on the party scene in the late 2000s.
But supplying the drug, which is usually sold as an odourless liquid in small bottles or capsules, was made illegal in 2009 after the Government came under growing pressure to ban so-called “legal highs”. A common solvent used in paint strippers and stain removers, it is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act as a Class C substance like tranquillisers, ketamine and some painkillers.
The drug was linked to 21 deaths in 2009, including the case of promising medicine student Hester Stewart, 21, who died about an hour after taking it in a friend’s bedroom in Brighton.
Coroner Veronica Hamilton-Deeley, who presided over Miss Stewart’s inquest, warned that people who experimented with the drug were “playing Russian roulette” with their lives.
Guidance from the charity DrugScope advises that, once in the body, GBL converts to another dangerous substance, GHB, which can also be sold separately.
“Like with other barbiturates there is a fine line between the amount that is required to achieve the desired effect and that which will lead to coma,” the charity advises.
“Even experienced users are at risk from death by intoxication. The consequences of long-term use are unknown.
“There is evidence that taking these drugs with alcohol or other sedative drugs adds to the risk of harm, but it is also clear that GHB and GBL can cause death when taken alone. Because GHB and GBL can really knock you out, they have been linked to drug-assisted sexual assault.”
Council leader John Weighell confirmed that Mr Thomas had been arrested on Thursday.
“He is the group research and communications officer and the investigation is to do with a drugs inquiry,” Coun Weighell said.
“I really can’t say much more than that and it is a matter for the UK Border Agency.”
A council spokeswoman said: “North Yorkshire County Council can confirm that a member of staff, who is the subject of an investigation by officers of the UK Border Agency, has been suspended from his post.
“The investigation does not relate to the member of staff’s work for the authority.”
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We have arrested a 38-year-old man as part of an investigation into the importation of restricted substances. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage in the investigation.”
Conservative Party headquarters refused to comment on the case.
By Rob Preece Crime Correspondent
Published on Friday 25 March 2011 23:00