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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 October 2005, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Trying to stem the flow of drugs
By Chris Summers
BBC News, Hull

Sergeant Mark Dixon often feels like a modern-day King Canute, trying to hold back the tide of drugs flowing into the city of Hull.

Man arrested in Hull
A suspected crack dealer is arrested on a Hull estate

"We know we're not going to stop it. If anything we're just keeping a lid on it. There's always going to be dealers and there's always going to be people who want to buy it," says Sgt Dixon philosophically.

He was talking shortly after executing a search warrant on a house on a north Hull council estate, where several rocks of crack cocaine were found hidden in a flowerpot.

Sgt Dixon's unit was set up in 2002 as part of Humberside Police's Drugs Policing Initiative (DPI), which was funded by extra government money. Its role is to disrupt drug dealers' activities.

BRITAIN'S DRUGS HABIT
graphic of various drugs
The BBC News website is exploring drugs in Britain in a special series of features.
We will look at how drugs get here, who uses them and whether current anti-drugs strategies are working.

The occupants of the house searched by police were typical of those they regularly encounter in similar raids around Hull.

The householder was a young single mother, described by Sgt Dixon as "vulnerable".

He said: "These out-of-town dealers arrive in the city from Nottingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, and seek out vulnerable people."

They are often council tenants with drug problems of their own or with money worries.

The dealers talk their way in, possibly by handing out cash or drugs, and are allowed to move in by the tenants.

Targeting the vulnerable

"They will say that for every gram they sell they will give the tenant a fix," he said.

They then begin dealing from the house and if the tenant complains they are often cowed into silence by violence or threats of violence.

crack (found in a house in Hull)
At street level an ounce of crack can make you up to 3,000. You buy it for 500 and sell it for at least 3,000
Sergeant Mark Dixon

When the house is raided the dealers often claim ignorance and point the finger at the tenant.

It is often up to the police to prove the drugs are linked to the dealers by using fingerprints or DNA techniques.

On the day I visited three males were arrested - one of whom was found hiding in a cupboard. All of them were believed to have come from Jamaica via Nottingham.

They were detained on suspicion of drug dealing but were found to be illegal immigrants and so were detained by the Immigration Service pending deportation.

DPI DATA FOR FEB-AUG IN HULL
Number of arrests made: 91
Number of people charged: 34
Amount of Class A drugs seized: 22,000
Amount of Class B drugs seized: 7,500
Amount of Class C drugs seized: 121,000
Source: Humberside Police

"In the last two years we have come into contact with 40 or 50 Jamaicans pushing drugs," said Sgt Dixon. "In excess of 20 were illegal immigrants. Around 50% were charged with drugs offences."

He said most of the out-of-town dealers were trying to foist crack onto their customers, although most of the buyers preferred heroin.

"They often offer crack as a two-for-one deal. 'Buy some heroin and we'll give you some crack for free'. They know how addictive crack is," he said.

Huge demand

Hull has been fortunate not to have seen the violent turf wars which have characterised the drug trade in London, Leeds, Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham.

But there is no doubting the size of its problem.

The city has an estimated 2,000 Class A users and the level of demand is such that indigenous dealers cannot meet it and suppliers from outside are inevitably tempted by the profits which can be made.

"At street level an ounce of crack can make you up to 3,000. You buy it for 500 and sell it for at least 3,000," says Sgt Dixon.

An officer bags up evidence after a raid in Hull
An officer bags up evidence after a raid in Hull
In recent years Humberside Police has launched two major "test purchase" operations, in which undercover officers bought drugs on several occasions from dealers in order to build up enough evidence to convict them.

Operation Hatch resulted in around 180 arrests and Operation Zircon led to around 80. The majority of those arrested ended up pleading guilty, such was the strength of evidence against them.

As part of the DPI scheme a mobile police station - a freight container, specially converted for the purpose - would appear overnight in a particular neighbourhood and for 12 weeks officers would conduct high-visibility operations and target drug dealers.

This has been largely successful although Sgt Dixon's team's role has since evolved.

The dealers have identified the increased police operations and know that Hull is no longer an easy touch but the profit margins are such that it's still worth the risk
Sergeant Mark Dixon

Now, driven by better intelligence and an increasing number of tip-offs, his unit has built up its own momentum and targets more and more dealers.

Sgt Dixon admits the job involves long hours. After debriefing his team following the raid, he says: "It's now 3.30 and the suspects still have to be interviewed.

"The officers could be here until 11 o'clock tonight. You need quite a lot of commitment to do this job because we have wives and girlfriends and they naturally get upset."

But the unit has made significant recoveries - 90,000 worth of heroin in one raid, 100,000 worth of heroin and crack in another - and Sgt Dixon says it is days like that which make the job worth doing.

"The dealers have identified the increased police operations and know that Hull is no longer an easy touch but the profit margins are such that it's still worth the risk, although the risk is higher than it was two or three years ago.

"We are playing King Canute but the alternative is simply doing nothing, and that is not an option."


Add your comments to this story using the form below:

In this day and age where the police are increasingly under fire for underperforming, it is wonderful to read of successful schemes like this one in Hull. Sgt Dixon and his team know the dangers they face every day, but still they are out there trying to clean up the streets of their city. Well done to them - may their efforts continue to have positive effects.
Morfydd Price, Luton

"We are playing King Canute but the alternative is simply doing nothing, and that is not an option." It is the criminalisation of drugs and the stigmatisation of their users that makes this an under ground activity. Some illegal drugs are dangerous and should be controlled but criminalisation only exacerbates the problem. Licence and legalise all drugs and let them be prescribed to addicts through doctors. With a proper support network and education in place these "vulnerable people" and the "criminals" they are exploited by would be protected and obsolete respectively.
Charles Jennings, Bristol, UK

Introduce some Thai law in this country and execute the dealers.
Rob, Scottish Highlands

Is doing nothing the only other option? There are other methods of controling the drug problem. It is demand rather than supply we should concentrate on, the Police themselves admit they wont come near to stopping it. Prescribe heroin and over night you would stop 80% of the black market.
Michael, London

Surely disrupting the activities of drug dealers in an effort to restrict the supply of drugs will only lead to an increase in the price of the drug? As Sgt Dixon philosophically states: "There's always going to be dealers and there's always going to be people who want to buy it." Shouldn't the money be used to fight the major causes of drug use such as poverty and lack of education about drugs.
Andrew Freud, London

For the record, Canute was a wise man who tried to stop the tide not because he believed he could do it, but in order to prove that he couldn't. Perhaps not the best metaphor!
Paul Emony, London

Why do we always classify drugs by the 'street' value? Why not by the amount of death and devastation they cause?
Allen Coulson, Chelmsford

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