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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 June 2007, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Drugs crackdown at Wight festival
By Fiona Pryor
Entertainment reporter, BBC News, Isle of Wight

Police talking to festivalgoer
Police talk to festivalgoers before they enter the event
"At festivals everyone expects drugs," says one festivalgoer queuing up to gain access to this year's Isle of Wight festival.

That might be the case for some fans, but local police are adamant they are keeping the three-day event, which runs until Sunday, drug free.

Now in its sixth year since the festival's revival - Jimi Hendrix and The Doors drew hundreds of thousands of fans in 1970 - the event has continued to grow.

Snow Patrol played on Friday, while Muse and the Rolling Stones headline the remainder of this weekend's event.

And as more people come to the festival so does the number of drug dealers.

They get arrested and it is like, 'thank goodness there might be some help'
Commander Steph Morgan
Hampshire Police
Steph Morgan, the police commander for the Isle of Wight, spends months working on an operation which she says will "deter hardened drug addicts and criminals from attending the family event".

The operation is made up of police officers, road officers, sniffer dogs, specialist teams from the Hampshire constabulary and trained drug workers from the charity Cranston.

Counselling 'effective'

It is the drug workers, who are on hand to offer support and advice to anyone arrested for possession of drugs, that Commander Morgan says makes this operation "unique".

She claims giving the drug users on-site counselling straight after their arrest is extremely effective.

"There are many people that are desperate to come off drugs. They get arrested and it is like 'thank goodness there might be some help'," she says.

"Like any addiction it's really hard to kick so this could be the trigger event that makes them look for help."

Last year a third of people who were stopped by police were then arrested on a drug charge.

Dog searching man at festival
The dogs are trained to sniff out a range of drugs
Commander Morgan says there is no way of telling who may be carrying substances.

"I know of a doctor that was arrested in possession of a great number of ecstasy tablets. That's fairly rare but I don't think we can stereotype or pigeon-hole drug addicts."

The entrance gate to the festival is manned with several uniformed police officers and sniffer dogs who are guided through the throngs of people.

Drugs seized

"They are trained to identify a set number of substances including cannabis, heroin, cocaine, crack and MDMA, which is more commonly known as ecstasy," says David Steele, acting sergeant for the dogs support unit.

If a dog smells any of those substances it sits in front of the suspect, who is then led away to be questioned and strip-searched.

"On the first day we seized a street value of 6,000 worth of drugs. From our prospective that's 6,000 worth of drugs that aren't in the systems of people inside the event," says Sgt Steele.

"The dogs very rarely make mistakes, they are constantly tested," he adds.

'Very clever'

Despite that, there are several men released after police did not find anything during their search.

I think drink causes more problems than drugs - when people are on drugs they all love each other, when they're on drink, they get violent
Katie, festivalgoer
One 45-year-old man from Fareham, who wishes to remain anonymous, admits he had been smoking cannabis before entering the festival.

"I didn't have anything on me. Basically the dog was very clever really. It knew I had been smoking dope," he says.

Another man admits he felt "shaky" after being stopped, despite not having any drugs on him.

However he refuses to blame the police, saying they had a job to do.

"Obviously the dogs smelt something, but what that was I don't know," he says.

The people charged are not as keen to speak about their experience.

Drugs seized by police at the festival
Drugs worth more than 6,000 have been confiscated so far
Having been counselled by drug workers, they are led away by police officers who eject them from the site.

At the gate there is a mixed reaction to the heavy police presence at the door where people are encouraged to dump their stash of illegal substances before being searched by security.

Phil Batten from Nottingham says: "I don't really think drugs have got a place at a festival."

"Everyone can have a laugh without them, there's no need for any of that. It is expected but it shouldn't be there's no need - you just need to have a few beers," he adds.

When asked about drugs, Katie from Hayling Island says: "I've taken them all my life. To be honest I think drink causes more problems than drugs. When people are on drugs they all love each other, when they're on drink, they get violent."

Commander Morgan does not agree and is adamant she wants to get the zero-tolerance policy across to festival fans.

"If people arrive with class A drugs they're not going to be allowed into the festival under any circumstances," she says.

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