Written by By Michal Kajou, CNN London
The tailpipe of a truck carrying highly-concentrated cocaine hydrochloride believed to be heading for the UK has been found empty, with sniffer dogs unable to detect any drugs.
The discovery, made by officers from Border Force at a truck stop in Manchester, England, earlier this month, shows that use of trucks as off-loading points for large quantities of narcotics is one method used by drug traffickers to hide their shipments.
While every successful smuggling attempt involving drug capsules can be considered a win, Dr. Wolfgang Fibich, founder of the drug research group at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, said the low detection rate of fruit and vegetable shipments at major truck stops further underscored the current state of the UK’s drug use.
“The trafficking of powder narcotic substances is happening at a much higher scale in the UK, which indicates that drugs availability in the country is escalating as well,” Fibich told CNN.
Smuggling drugs via trucks is not the most common method of drug smuggling in the UK, authorities say.
Drug traffickers typically divert their shipments of pharmaceuticals and consumer drugs such as amphetamines into illicit stores (from street corner dealers or criminal labs). The average annual value of shipments carried in hidden compartments of cars in the UK is more than $3.5 billion, according to Border Force.
But since the mid-1990s there has been an increase in drugs arriving at major truck stops hidden in wooden pallets and vegetable boxes, The Guardian reported.
In 2015, police discovered €300 million (about $356 million) worth of drugs in a simulated salt water lake at Calais, an issue Border Force addressed at a summit on drugs policy in Calais this month.
Truck stops across the world
UK Border Force tested only three containers at the Manchester truck stop, including the one containing the cocaine.
The substance, which had a street value of approximately £33 million (US$41 million), was found to have a purity of 0.99%.
The drug was discovered after sniffer dogs performed a “fitout” at the “lidless” container, said Border Force. Such analysis can be of questionable value in criminal cases as it does not prevent drug seizure.
“To ensure the success of ongoing joint operation targeting large scale cash smuggling, the substance had to be isolated and dried so that it could be analyzed in low concentration,” said Richard Hudson, Director of London Gateway Border Force port.
“Drugs can vary widely in purity and composition, so we must remain vigilant to new forms of contraband that may be smuggled into the UK.”
“Experts from across the UK Border Force and its partners have identified several loopholes in UK transport networks, and have put further measures in place to tackle illegal drugs trafficking from Europe and beyond.”