A move away from criminalising drug dealing in favour of a legally regulated approach was strongly advocated in a presentation by Neil Woods at the Ardington Hotel on Thursday evening.
Mr Woods, who spent 14 years (including a spell in Brighton) infiltrating drugs gangs as an undercover policeman, befriended and gained the trust of some of the most vicious drug gangs in the country.
One of these was the Burger Bar Boys, a notorious gang in Birmingham which sent its dealers to Northampton, where he was then based.
Pitching himself as an itinerant criminal and beginning by mixing with rough sleepers who were regular drug users, he eventually met the organisers themselves and, as a result of the information that he had gathered and the ensuing police raids, every single dealer in Northampton was arrested.
But then he was told by a colleague in the intelligence unit: “We’ve managed to interrupt the drug flow here for two hours.”
Mr Woods came to the conclusion that the reason why organised drug crime was becoming more violent was in response to what amounted to an “arms race” with the police.
The most successful gangs are also the most ruthless, because their reputation scares off would-be informers, and they are using children who are easily intimidated and will themselves become increasingly violent, because that is what is expected of them.
It is, of course, also the case that violence associated with drugs has grown with increasing inter-gang rivalry, because drug dealing is an easy way in which to make money – the value of the illicit drugs trade in the UK is estimated at £10.7billion – and the gangs want to protect and increase their share of it.
Mr Woods’ arguments will not win ready acceptance by many. But, with police resources stretched as never before, they are not easy for those who make our laws to ignore, and support for them is increasing.
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