Drug seizures in London soared during pandemic

Drug seizures by police in London rose during the first year of the pandemic amid a rise in drug hauls nationally.

Part of a massive seizure of heroin and arms by Gardai forensic officers in Dublin's Garda Technical Bureau headquarters.
Part of a massive seizure of heroin and arms by Gardai forensic officers in Dublin's Garda Technical Bureau headquarters.

Drug seizures by police in London rose during the first year of the pandemic amid a rise in drug hauls nationally.

Police chiefs say a drop in calls from the public during parts of 2020-21 meant forces across England and Wales had more capacity to proactively police drugs crimes and disrupt illicit dealing and county lines activity.

Home Office data shows the Met carried out 50,759 seizures in the year to March – up 22% from 41,485 the year before.

There were 220,000 seizures nationally, up more than a fifth from 2019-20.

Policing and Crime Minister Kit Malthouse said this meant some "nasty villains" nursing huge losses, while Home Secretary Priti Patel praised the efforts of police and Border Force officials in their targeting of "the kingpins destroying communities".

However, Release – the national centre for drugs expertise – said seizures have little impact on the availability of drugs, claiming people had no difficulties finding a dealer in a "resilient and adaptable market", even during the pandemic.

In 2020-21, there were 55,409 drug crimes recorded across London, a 12% rise from 49,368 in 2019-20.

The offences contributed to the 210,000 logged nationally last year – a record high.

Dr Laura Garius, Release's policy lead, said the organisation's monitoring of UK drug purchasing during the pandemic found more people reported an increase in consumption.

She said: "Just as we see with recorded drug offences, drug seizures reflect policing activity and priorities, rather than accurately reflecting drug market activity."

Class A drugs such as heroin and cocaine were seized by London police 7,146 times during 2020-21, but cannabis was a factor in the largest proportion of all seizures – 87%.

Variations of the class B substance were found in 44,092 seizures, with police confiscating 44,408 cannabis plants as a result.

Nationally, 71% of all drugs seizures involved cannabis.

Dr Garius said it was the drug most responsible for bringing people into the justice system and called for its legislation, saying doing so would prevent the criminalisation of thousands.

However, Deputy Chief Constable Jason Harwin, drugs lead at the National Police Chiefs' Council, said the substance was potent, harmful and a "key driver in other serious criminality".

He added: “Policing takes drug crime, and the devastating impact they have for communities and individuals, incredibly seriously.

“We will continue to focus efforts on the criminals and organised gangs who are destroying lives and fuelling the violence we’re seeing on our streets."

Mr Malthouse said: "Drugs gangs ruin lives and dismantling their conspiracies for good means breaking their businesses and destroying their profits.

"Well done to the Border Force and police for tackling this head on."