Picture courtesy of Torquay Police on Twitter @TorquayNHT
There was a reminder last week, as if we needed it, of the harm caused by drugs. The report published in the Lancet Psychiatry didn’t relate to so-called ‘hard’ substances like cocaine and heroin but instead warned about the effect of strong cannabis on mental health.
Researchers said consuming skunk is much more likely to cause psychosis than previously thought. They estimate around one in 10 new cases of psychosis in European cities may be associated with this drug.
People experiencing psychosis lose touch with reality, and may hear voices, see things that are not actually there or have delusional, confused thoughts. It is a recognised medical condition and different to getting high on a drug.
The toll taken on people’s lives is appalling – the patient may struggle to work, may pose a risk to themselves or others and in extreme cases might have to be detained under mental health legislation – sometimes for years. All too regularly people with cannabis-induced psychosis take their own lives.
It’s a burden that public services like our hard-pressed NHS can do without and one of the reasons that, unlike some other PCCs, I don’t support a softening in the law around cannabis and don’t accept that police should turn a blind eye to its sale.
Fortunately in Devon and Cornwall we have police teams who continue with a robust approach to all illegal drugs. Earlier this month police in Torquay seized cannabis worth about £100,000 from a basement where it was being grown. The seizure was thought to be the biggest yet from Operation Commonwealth, it was the 45th raid since the operation started in May last year and came just days after cannabis worth £30,000 was uncovered nearby.
There was further good news on Thursday (March 21) when five men were convicted of trying to import 1.4 tonnes of cocaine, with a street value of £112m, into Cornwall using a yacht and a speedboat. This was a hugely significant bust which has seriously disrupted a gang of international smugglers who are intent on importing their wares into our country. Cracking it required the joint efforts of the UK Border Force, the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre, the Irish Navy and Air Corps, the National Crime Agency and, of course, Devon and Cornwall Police.
The yacht was intercepted a month after another vessel, the Marcia, was stopped with two tonnes of cocaine off the Cornish coast by the appropriately named Border Force cutter HMC Vigilant.
Had these enormous hauls of drugs been landed they would possibly have been circulated within the UK by established networks known as county lines operations. These target vulnerable adults and children to distribute drugs to areas that until recently have remained relatively free from the scourge of drug abuse, using dedicated mobile phone lines.
There have been successes here too. Former Tottenham man Aliki Mamwa is serving a five-year sentence after our police brought down his scheme to deal heroin and cocaine in Callington, a charming town in Cornwall where most residents were blissfully unaware their community had been targeted by a cynical gang from the capital.
Those who think it’s cool to do drugs should be aware that their production and distribution are intimately bound up around the world with violence and oppression. Experts tell me that the area between county lines dealing and modern slavery is becoming blurred, that those perceived as perpetrators are often victims, exploited by those making the real profits.
As with the Cornish cocaine seizures, this is an area where partnership with other forces and agencies is vital. Merseyside Police, the Met and Greater Manchester Police are among those who have worked with our police officers to disrupt county lines networks and put dealers behind bars.
The increasing efforts of drug dealers and criminals mean we cannot be complacent. That’s why my office has listened to residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and created a budget that enables the Chief Constable to increase police strength. Our communities, through increases to the council tax precept, are funding an extra community connectivity officer for each of the 27 sectors in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to help pick up on suspicious activity and gather intelligence. In addition there will be an additional 30 detectives and 28 response officers.
It’s important too to get this all in perspective, thanks to some of the good work I’ve outlined here Devon and Cornwall remains one of the safest parts of the country to live – ranked sixth out of 43 forces in England and Wales – with your help we can keep it that way.
If you would like to report drug dealing in your community call police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously on 0800 555111.