September 30 2014 Latest news:
Monday, March 31, 2014
Gangs of drug dealers from London are increasingly using west Suffolk as their base according to one leading police officer, as new figures for the region showed a drastic spike in serious drug offences.
Crimes in Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket almost doubled last year according to figures obtained by the EADT via a Freedom of Information request, with especially sharp rises in arrests for offences linked to Class A drugs.
Chip Somers, founder of Bury-based rehabilitation charity Focus 12, said police and other bodies in the public sector are not tackling the problem cohesively and were “turning a blind eye” to certain drugs.
But Chief Inspector Tonya Antonis, policing commander for St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath, said police were working with partners to address the issue, but dealers from outside the area were becoming a much larger problem.
She said: “You have on the one hand your local people, local criminals engaged in that activity, using drugs and dealing in drugs local to that area.
“You have another aspect, predominantly from the metropolitan areas, coming up to areas such as Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket and dealing drugs in this area.
“The reason we’ve seen that figure in the past 12 to 18 months is we’ve seen an increase in that aspect, of people from that area coming into Bury and Newmarket and dealing drugs.”
Recently, four people from London were arrested in The Vinefields, Bury – two men, aged 23 and 21, on suspicion of conspiracy to supply Class A drugs and money-laundering; a 16-year-old boy on suspicion of possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply, and a 15-year-old boy on suspicion of money-laundering.
Mr Somers said the rise in drug offences “came as no surprise”, and pointed to Newmarket and Haverhill in particular as two places where the supply of drugs was rife.
He said: “We are seeing a lot more people trying a lot more different drugs. Everything we are seeing over the last two or three years points to an increase in what people are doing.”
Mr Somers often found that people on methadone, which is prescribed by doctors to treat recovering heroin addicts, were on other drugs, and that drug services were “turning a blind eye to anything other than opiates”.
He added: “I don’t think there’s any kind of connection between the medical service, the drug service or the police, which there used to be years ago – you’ve therefore got everybody hearing the same message.
“That doesn’t exist any longer, and I’d like to see a much more cohesive approach so that everyone is on the same page.
“For a long time people in Suffolk have thought themselves to be slightly removed from the drug problems they hear about nationally, when actually they are just as intrusive and critical as they are elsewhere.”
Chief Insp Antonis said Mr Somers’ comments were “disappointing”, and pointed to measures the police had taken along with housing and public health officials to tackle the root cause in the past 18 months.
These include rehousing those caught up in drug abuse, conducting joint visits with health workers and drug testing those in custody who have been arrested for certain offences, with anyone testing positive being referred to a drug worker.
“Underneath all this we have some very vulnerable users of drugs,” she added.
“While I accept some people may choose it as a lifestyle, there are some very vulnerable people using drugs and it’s how we support them to break the habit.”
She also said the spread of drug dealers from big cities was not unique locally, adding: “You’ll get drug dealers who run out of places to deal in London, so will come to outlying counties - not just Suffolk - because they probably have less trouble competing against dealers. I’d be fairly comfortable in saying other forces are finding that.
“There perhaps is a lack of awareness, but putting it into perspective it’s not a huge problem compared to some other counties.
“Because it’s not a big problem and seems to be quite focussed on specific areas, it’s probably not something people would recognise as much.”
Offences in Bury
2011 - 73
2012 - 72
2013 - 135
Offences in Newmarket
2011 - 10
2012 - 32
2013 - 71