UK Drugs Trade - Smugglers Get Creative

Drug smugglers are trying inventive new tactics. Can border police stop the illegal trade into the country? And are they targeting the wrong people?

Dealers who smuggle drugs into the country are trying some bizarre new tactics, it was revealed yesterday. Photos released by the UK Border Agency show off some of the criminals’ more unlikely hiding places.

Ten kilos of cocaine, worth up to half a million pounds, were found hidden inside whole yams at Kent International Airport. At Heathrow, four kilos of heroin were discovered woven into the fabric of wicker baskets. The smuggler was a 72-year-old man.

Most surprisingly of all, one kilogram of cannabis, valued at nearly £3000, was found hidden inside the hollow frame of a portrait of footballer Emmanuel Adebayor.

Some smugglers even resorted to the dangerous technique of swallowing packages of drugs. They hoped to retrieve the packages from the toilet after arriving in the country.

The head of the Border Force, Brodie Clark, said: “These smuggling attempts show the lengths that organized criminals will go to in a bid to get drugs into the UK.”

But he warned potential smugglers that hi-tech tools like x-rays and sniffer dogs allow border guards to detect even the most well-hidden drugs.

There were thousands of drugs seizures last year, and the confiscated contraband will have been worth tens of millions of pounds.

However, UK drug users are thought to spend much more than that on drugs each year. One study put the total number at £4.5 billion.

And in spite of the efforts of customs and police officers, drugs still kill about 2500 people each year. Worse still, that number does not seem to be going down.

The Wrong Strategy?
Wherever customers are willing to buy something, and somebody is willing to sell it, a market exists, driven by supply and demand. Since drugs are illegal, the drugs market is a “black market”, which is very difficult to control.

At the moment, the government fights the market by restricting the supply. They hope that if they seize enough shipments, and arrest enough dealers, then customers who want drugs simply won’t be able to buy them.

Not everyone agrees. A growing number think drugs should be legal – then at least drug profits would go to legitimate companies, not criminal gangs. Others say we should try harder to discourage demand. If penalties for using drugs were harsher, perhaps fewer people would buy them. Without anyone to sell to, the dealers would soon go out of business.

You Decide

  1. Why do you think drug smugglers take such big risks to bring drugs into the country? Why would a 72-year-old man, like the one who brought drugs in baskets, want to do it?
  2. Drugs are a big problem. But who is more to blame – users or dealers? Who should police concentrate on – users or dealers? Were your answers the same and if so why?


  1. Imagine you were a customs officer. Where do you think people might find space to hide drugs? In groups, make a list of top ten hiding places.
  2. In the film Maria Full of Grace, a 17-year-old girl decides to become a “drug mule”, swallowing packets of heroin to bring them into the US. See what you can find out about the dangers of being a drug mule, and write a short essay explaining why people like Maria decide to take the risk.

Some People Say...

“We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation.' Bob Ainsworth, former Home Office drugs minister.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What’s the news?
Drug dealers are trying some eccentric new methods to try to smuggle drugs over the border.
Like what?
Well, one smuggler hid drugs inside vegetables, and another tried to bring in cannabis inside the frame of a portrait of the footballer Emmanuel Adebayor.
How do we know?
We know because these criminals were caught by the UK Borders Agency. It’s their job to stop drugs getting into the country.
Is drug smuggling a big problem?
Yes – British people spend billions of pounds a year on drugs, which are responsible for around 2500 deaths.
So what’s the debate?
The question is: should we concentrate our efforts on the smugglers who bring drugs into the country, or on the people who use the drugs in the end. The smugglers are bigger criminals, but is it the users who drive the trade?

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