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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Child 'drugs mule' recovering in hospital
A Customs officer examines part of a 160kg haul of heroin found in a car boot in the UK
The boy swallowed 87 condoms of the drug
A 12-year-old suspected drugs mule is "stable" in a New York hospital after swallowing 87 condoms full of heroin before a flight from London.

Prince Nnaedozie Umegbolu, a US citizen, developed severe stomach pains after taking a taxi from New York's La Guardia airport.

Doctors, who removed most of the condoms, said he could have died if any of them had burst.

The boy, who had been living with relatives in Nigeria for two years, said he had been offered $1,900 (about 1,320) to carry the drug to the US.

He had travelled alone on a British Airways flight from Britain on Wednesday night and investigators are still trying to find out how he got the drugs, and who he was planning to meet in the US.

The case coincides with the arrest at Manchester Airport of the second teenager in three days for suspected heroin smuggling.

'Dirty money'

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said: "International drug trafficking has reached a new low of degradation for exploiting a 12-year-old boy by allegedly turning him into a 'mule'.

The true criminals in this terrible and tragic case are the cold-hearted and greedy dealers of death

District Attorney Richard Brown

"The true criminals in this terrible and tragic case are the cold-hearted and greedy dealers of death who risk a child's life in the relentless quest for dirty money."

The 12-year-old will face charges of juvenile delinquency when he recovers, said Mr Brown.

After arriving in New York, he took a taxi to an address in Brooklyn.

When there was no answer he took the cab back to the airport and it was then he fell ill.

Police said the boy's mother lived in the US state of Georgia, but was unaware he was travelling to New York.

His father was serving 10 years in a Virginia jail after being convicted of conspiracy to process and import heroin.

'Poor or desperate'

The boy's case came to light as a second teenager was charged with smuggling a Class A drug through Manchester Airport.

The 15-year-old was arrested after stepping off a flight on Thursday, three days after a 13-year-old girl was charged with trying to smuggle 13kg of heroin, worth almost 1m, through the airport.

A Customs and Excise spokesman told BBC News Online that it was too early to say whether the three cases represented a growing problem of child drug couriers.

He said instances were still rare, but added: "We know drug traffickers will go to any lengths to get drugs into the country."

Roger Howard, Chief Executive, of the charity DrugScope said: "Three cases in as many days have highlighted the very real problem of vulnerable people, be they young, poor or simply desperate, being exploited by drug traffickers."

He called on the government to look at "radical and practical alternatives to prison for these vulnerable women and children".

Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown
"It is really very rare to find someone this young being used as a courier"
Olga Heaven of welfare agency Hibiscus
"He must have had carers, and they should be held accountable"
See also:

12 Apr 02 | England
Girl arrested over heroin haul
09 Apr 02 | England
Teenager held over heroin haul
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